Four months after a large fire damaged the sanctuary of the Ridgeview Baptist Church, church members are preparing for perhaps the biggest step in the church’s rebuilding process.
The sanctuary — complete with balcony — remains a maze of scaffolding with the only light floating into the darkened area from a hole in the roof above the pulpit area. The sanctuary and its outer hallway are fenced in and locked up.
Pastor Mark Keyser said the church is in a “holding pattern” as it awaits the four main supports needed to begin the rebuilding process for the sanctuary. The laminated beams — which were compromised in the fire and had to be rebuilt — extend from the outer hallway and meet at the roof of the structure.
The beams, Keyser said, are expected to be brought in during the next few weeks.
“What they’re going to try to do is brace and shore those outer walls up and then surgically cut each beam out and lift them out and put the new back in,” Keyser said.
The replacement beams will allow crews to start putting the roof of the sanctuary back on, leading to the church eventually reopening the main area by November 2014.
A passerby saw fire on the roof of the sanctuary after lightning struck the church around 3:30 a.m. June 1 and called 911. The blaze gutted the sanctuary, but controlled by firefighters who kept it from the education wing and other areas of the church.
Damages from the fire were estimated at more than $2 million for the church, which has been in Danville since 1953. Insurance covered all of the damage expenses.
According to Keyser, the coming year is one he hopes will be a year of growing for church members, who have been conducting church services at the Executive Plaza, 3550 N. Vermilion St. He said the accommodations, while appreciated, have prompted church-goers to change some of their long-held traditions.
He said the church has enjoyed large public events in the past, something not possible currently. But Keyer said that’s led members to consider other ways to reach out with events such as its annual Christmas service.
“I’ve been saying, it’s easier to think outside the box when the box burns down,” Keyser said, energy levels among the congregation have actually been higher since the fire took place.
“We’re really hoping this next year will be a year of growing,” he added, noting that eventually moving back into the church will not be a moment to relax. “I want to be launching off the ground at that point, not settling in.”
The year of growing for the church will include taking advantage of the sanctuary reconstruction to make a couple of adjustments in lighting and acoustics in the structure.
While improvements are planned for the sanctuary, a few time-honored mementos were lost as a result of the fire. A Communion table built by one of the early pastors of the church in the 1950s was located near the pulpit below the fire. The table “disintegrated” when workers tried to move it, he said.
Another item also located in the area of the pulpit was one of the oldest Bibles owned by the church.
“It’s burned, but not destroyed,” he said. “ I think it is the one thing that we will keep from the fire.”
Several church members plan to keep the Bible in a Plexiglas box for display.
“I’m not inclined to build too many monuments to the old days,” Keyser said. “It’s primarily the Bible. There’s a lot of symbolism to that.”
The church also will have new additions in the form of stained glass windows to replace the former colorful glass that highlighted the sanctuary. Keyser said the new windows will come from a person in Ridge Farm who is converting an old church into a home.