Monday, December 22, 2014

Faith survives flames of church fire

By DYLAN LYSEN, Herald Staff Writer | 8/4/2014

As questions swirled like smoke around the charred remains of Bethany Chapel Baptist Church Monday, church leaders pledged they would rebuild the historic cornerstone of Ottawa’s black community.

“We’ll be alright,” the Rev. Armogen Walker said at the scene of Monday’s early morning fire. “We’ll be fine. We’ll rebuild our church.”

The nearly 147-year-old church, 131 S. Poplar St., Ottawa, was badly damaged when a fire broke out shortly before 5:30 a.m. Monday, according to reports at the scene. Few details were available Monday evening from the Ottawa Fire Department, which spent much of the day investigating the blaze that scorched the church. Reports at the scene indicated the church was unoccupied at the time of the fire.

Walker said mid-day he didn’t know the cause of the fire nor how much damage had been done. The building is appraised at $231,320, according to county documents. The Ottawa Fire Department did not respond by presstime Monday to requests for damage estimates or further information.

What was known, church leaders said, was that Bethany Chapel Baptist Church would survive the fire. Though definite plans have not yet been made, the congregation of 70 to 100 members would move forward, Brandon Nichols, assistant minister, said.

“We just continue to praise God even though we might not understand it, He has a better plan for us,” Nichols said on the scene.

Ironically, Nichols and Walker said, the theme for the church’s Vacation Bible School lesson last week was “Under Construction.”

Kent Mathews, pastor of Grace Community Fellowship, 501 S. Poplar St., was on the scene Monday morning and offered the use of his church to the Bethany pastors. Walker said there has been an outpouring of support from churches in the community to help Bethany’s congregation after the fire and allow them to continue to hold church services.

“They all have been here today,” Walker said of several churches that have offered help. “We’re going to make a decision where to meet.”

Shirley Long, Ottawa, a longtime church member and trustee, who was on the scene Monday morning, said she was shocked to hear about the fire since the church had been in Ottawa so long and church members were preparing to celebrate its 147th anniversary later this year.

“I’m thankful no one was in there,” she said. “It is just a building.”

Amelia Gray, another longtime church member on the scene, said she was saddened, and also express surprise at the early morning incident. Overall, however, Gray and others at the scene voiced hope that trusting in their faith eventually would help them understand the devastating blaze.

Sarah Wiesner, Herald multimedia production specialist, and Jeanny Sharp, Herald editor and publisher, contributed to this report.

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