For more than a century, South Seaville United Methodist Church was a community hub.
It hosted Cub and Girl Scout meetings and birthday parties. But all of that ended June 9, 2011, when it was struck by lightning and burned to the ground.
Now, thanks to contributions of cash, labor and supplies by those it served, the Dennis Township church is just a few months from reopening.
“People pulled together in ways that we probably never would have before, and we’ve had an outpouring of love from past pastors, and people that had been members years ago sent substantial donations,” said rebuilding committee member Dottie Wood. “Without those, I don’t know where we’d be.”
Shortly after the fire, church members organized a committee to raise funds and plan the construction of a new building. The project broke ground in June, two years to the day after the original church burned, and is now nearing completion. The exterior is mostly done save for a few areas that still need siding. The interior is still a skeleton, but each day it gets closer.
Wood visited the building for the first time in more than a week Thursday and remarked on the progress made since she last saw it.
“Wow, we have doors!” Wood said. “Every step is really a blessing.”
The church is largely built on the footprint of the original 1884 construction except for a few minor differences, but its amenities have changed dramatically.
The basement was not reused due to the cost of getting it up to code. The church now houses a day care center, The Learning Garden, built to modern requirements, including 24/7 space surveillance and buzz-in doors. A “crying room” for children has been added to the sanctuary so parents of young children can attend service without disturbing other members, and the church now has a commercial kitchen.
The rear of the previous church was reserved as a social hall but will now serve as a multipurpose room complete with a basketball half-court. The doors separating the court from the church can also be sealed, allowing it to remain open when the church is not.
The space will be open to members and nonmembers alike, just as the old social hall was, the Rev. Thomas Perry said.
“The whole idea was to make it into a tool for the folks to be able to use,” he said. “Hospitality, it’s biblical. We want people to feel comfortable.”
Following the fire, the church received an insurance settlement of $1.1 million for the building, $100,000 for its contents and a bit more to cover code upgrades. Perry said the payout amount was capped, so the total did not reflect the actual replacement value of the church. All told, the new building will cost between $2 million and $2.5 million, Perry said.
The community has nearly made up the difference between the settlement and rebuilding costs. Perry said most area churches have chipped in at least $1,000 each, and generous individuals have contributed money and supplies. Among the most generous donors have been George Frame, who donated the roof, and lawyer Jim Pickering, who has done the church’s legal work pro bono and allowed them to hold worship in a building he owns rent-free.
Countless more have donated time or what they can spare, Perry said.
“So many people in this congregation have put their hearts into this building,” Perry said. “I truly believe this is a congregation you’re going to hear about, because they’re so generous and so good.”
Wood said the church is still about $100,000 short of its needs, which will likely force it to take out a loan. It will hold a silent auction May 3 at the Ocean View Fire Department at a time to be determined.
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