On June 9, the second anniversary of the fire that destroyed South Seaville United Methodist Church in Dennis Township, the congregation took an official step forward by breaking ground on its new church.

Its former 127-year-old church on Corsons Tavern Road in South Seaville caught fire during the night of June 9, 2011, and continued to burn into the morning of June 10, destroying the building and displacing its congregation since.

The new church, which will be in the same place as the old one, is expected to be complete about August 2014. Since the fire, the congregation has been holding its services across the street in the old Grange building at the corner of Corsons Tavern Road and Kings Highway.

The groundbreaking for the new church took place June 9 with a procession over to the construction site for a blessing and groundbreaking ceremony following the Sunday morning service at the Grange.

"We would not have gotten to where we are without the support of others," said the Rev. Thomas Perry, pastor of the church. "Not just the support of my brothers and sisters in the (South Seaville United) Methodist Church, but also the support of our neighbors, our neighboring churches and of people all over the country. I received a $5 donation from a woman in Texas. You have no idea how much the support means to us."

Community members also have donated their time and talents to the rebuilding effort, including local construction workers, landscapers, roofers and more.

Perry mentioned two key supporters of the project, Mark Gibson, of Gibson Engineering, who is the chairman of the church's rebuilding committee and has donated countless hours to the project, and South Seaville attorney Jim Pickering, who is the owner of the old Grange building, which he has allowed the congregation to use.

"Without Jim, we wouldn't be where at this point today," Perry said. "He kept us going, gave us a place to meet, donated his time, gave us legal advice."

Gibson, who is also a member of the church, said he is honored to be able to help build the new church.

"It's been a honor to do God's will in rebuilding the facility," he said. "Not only will it be a beautiful sanctuary, which will ultimately seat 220 people, but it will have a Christian nursery school, a social hall with a half-court basketball for recreation opportunities and so much more."

Gibson said though the community has been generously donating to the effort, there are several features of the new facility that will only be possible if the church gets additional donations, such as an interior balcony that will seat 40 people and a stage for performances.

He said the groundbreaking ceremony symbolized a culmination of two years of effort by the building committee and the congregation to create the plans and lay the groundwork for the new church.

"It's the kickoff ceremony to the actual building process," Gibson said.

Those interested in supporting the continuation of the project can send donations directly to the church's rebuilding fund or purchase a $100 personalized brick, which will be placed as part of the Legacy Walk leading to the entrance of the church.

So far, 25 bricks have been sold, Perry said. The church also will honor any persons or organizations that have donated a minimum of $1,000 to the project by dedicating a brick in their honor.

"It makes you so hopeful to see so people give so much," he said.

Contact Elisa Lala:

609-463-6713

How to help

Monetary donations can be sent to Rebuild Our Church Fund, 115 Corsons Tavern, P.O. Box 158, South Seaville NJ, 08246.

Legacy Walk Brick Dedication:

Community members can support the church's rebuilding efforts by purchasing a personalized engraved brick to be a part of its Legacy Walk leading to the front door. For details and prices call Jay Caville at 609-861-5091.