After fire, church to rise from the ashes

Arundel congregation getting set to rebuild

March 24, 2002|By Andrea F. Siegel | Andrea F. Siegel,SUN STAFF

The makeshift shelf sags above the makeshift desk in the makeshift office of Centenary United Methodist Church.

But in the adjoining room of the trailer lie scattered blueprints and permits -- signs that the day is coming when the southern Anne Arundel County church will forsake these temporary digs for a building to replace the one that fire destroyed.

"We said from the ashes a new church would rise," said the Rev. Stephanie Vader, Centenary's pastor. "And it will."

Two years ago, in the week before Palm Sunday, an accidental fire claimed the Shady Side church's historic home. The church had been building an addition and renovating the structure, which dated to 1866. Anne Arundel County fire officials ruled that a roofing crew working on the steeple left a halogen lamp face-down, and when an automatic timer turned it on after dark, the intense heat touched off the fire.

That year, Palm Sunday services were held under a tent, with the stench of the fire wafting over the congregation.

"Every time Easter comes around, you think of the fire," Cindy Rothhaas, a stay-at-home parent and substitute teacher, said last week, as she helped fill 432 plastic eggs for the church Easter egg hunt. "I had just dropped off all of the supplies [for egg decorating]. They burned. They were gone."

Since the fire, Centenary has operated out of a variety of temporary quarters. Though congregants are grateful for community support, they are weary of running their church out of boxes.

Worship and Sunday school are held at Oakland United Methodist Church, two miles up the road. Large events, including Easter egg hunts and parties, are held at the Kiwanis Club of Shady Side.

Adult Bible study and church offices are in the trailer that sits in Centenary's gravel parking lot.

One of its windows overlooks a lot that is at once a sign of sadness and of hope. The 6,000-square-foot church that used to be there is missing. A line of daffodils nod along what used to be the path to the building.

But earth-moving is expected to start this spring in preparation for a 10,000-square-foot church there.

Many of Centenary's 300 members have deep roots in this church, and hardly any families drifted away after the fire.

Lucretia Brown, a third-generation churchgoer at Centenary, was baptized there. So were her grandchildren.

"For 80 years I've been coming to this church. My daddy used to say, `It'll be the last place you go.' And this church has to get up because I'm not going anyplace else," she said, crossing her arms.

Members have opened their homes to house small keepsakes -- such as chunks of broken beams that might find a spot in a church memorial -- and to temporarily store large items that don't fit in the church's storage trailer. One family has 100 folding chairs in its garage. Another is baby-sitting the baby grand piano.

Congregants have pulled together, first by holding classes at one another's homes, then in planning to rebuild.

"After the fire, I feel our church got stronger. We got to know each other better," Rothhaas said. "It's more family."

Renovating to rebuilding

The old building committee evolved into a rebuilding committee, gathering around a folding table in the trailer.

Some 70 meetings later, the church is close having a package ready to go out for bid.

"Two years seems like a long time. But trying to get 300 people to agree this is the best way to proceed," said Bob Lee, trustee chairman.

With luck, bids won't exceed the $1.6 million budget. The church received $991,000 from its insurance company. Parishioners expect to add $600,000 to that.

Exactly how much Centenary will need to borrow is unclear and will depend heavily on building fund pledges, said Camille Vogts, church finance leader and a retired college purchasing officer.

The four-year building fund for the ill-fated rehabbing of the old Centenary ends this year, with about $200,000 expected to have been raised. The church is collecting pledges for a new four-year building fund and, by the fall, Vogts will know that tally. She is expecting it will be at least as much.

The rest will come from gifts, memorials and what trustee chairman Lee calls "little fund-raisers," though the making and selling of 2,700 hand-dipped, hand-decorated buttercream eggs in recent weeks could hardly be called a small undertaking. It will bring in $2,500. Wearing T-shirts that say "working to rebuild Centenary," church members also have parked cars and made funnel cakes to sell at local festivals to raise money.

The new church appears on blueprints as an irregular L-shape of sanctuary, classrooms and offices. Included is a soundproof room where parents can hear the service while their babies coo without disturbing other worshippers. It will double as a location for counseling sessions.

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