As the demolition crane’s jaws ripped off chunks of Taylor Chapel United Methodist Church’s fire-damaged sanctuary Wednesday, the Rev. Steve Conner, the pastor, saw one of the congregation’s older members watching.
Conner went over to see how he was taking it: The congregation had worshipped in that building since 1964.
“He said, ’I’m excited. We are ready to move forward,’” Conner said.
“Taylor Chapel has a history of always looking forward and trying to reach toward the next generation,” he said.
A fire that started about 12:30 a.m. Dec. 31 destroyed the interior of the sanctuary, despite leaving the exterior looking relatively untouched, Conner said. Concerns about structural damage led to the decision to tear down the building.
Classrooms, offices and the preschool once connected to the sanctuary escaped significant damage, so they will be saved and refurbished, Conner said.
The congregation’s family life center also escaped damage. Church members have met there for worship services since the Sunday after the fire.
While waiting to move forward with demolition and construction of a new sanctuary, Conner said the congregation has been hard at work re-envisioning its mission. Members have set their focus on reaching the next generation for Jesus Christ.
That vision will guide them as they design the new sanctuary, he said.
Conner expects demolition and removal of debris to take two to three weeks. The congregation, which averages about 200 people at Sunday services, hopes to break ground in the spring – the 50th anniversary of their move into the old sanctuary – and begin using the new sanctuary by Christmas 2014.
Taylor Chapel, which was founded in 1865, will celebrate its 150th anniversary in 2015.
The insurance settlement from the fire will help pay much of the cost of the new sanctuary, but the congregation still will need to raise some money through a capital fund drive, Conner said. Some details of the settlement still are being decided, so he didn’t want to state a specific amount the church expects to receive from insurance.
Going through the fire and rebuilding also have had some blessings, he said.
“We discovered in a very real way the church is not a building but people gathered together for a common purpose,” he said.
In addition to re-envisioning their mission, Conner said congregation members got to know each other better during the first six months after the fire because they all worshipped at one Sunday service.
The church since has returned to two Sunday services, as it had before the fire. The traditional service begins at 8:30 a.m., and the contemporary service at 10:30 a.m.
Members also have helped build four water wells in the African nation of Burkina Faso and taken on supporting students and staff at Southwick Elementary School, 6500 Wayne Trace, as part of the Rising Stars program through Associated Churches of Fort Wayne and Allen County.
In addition, the congregation has been blessed by amazing support from the community, Conner said.
Right after the fire, Blackhawk Ministries sent over staff to help with the technical aspects of setting up the family life center for worship.
St. Joseph United Methodist Church sent its worship leader to help lead that first service, and Good Shepherd United Methodist has sent people to help with child care. Covenant United Methodist sent a donation of $4,000.
Countless people, pastors and congregations have kept the Taylor Chapel congregation in their prayers, Conner said.
“It is the body of Christ at its best,” he added.