MILLVILLE — A fire that raced through the First Assembly of God church here a year ago shocked the congregation and forced members to hold services in the local high school and another house of worship.
But the Rev. Joseph Green said something happened during the past year that many people did not expect.
“The core of our church has grown stronger,” he said. “Our people have always believed that the building is not the church. We have a better understanding of … who the church is.”
Come 10:30 a.m. Sunday, members of Green’s congregation will attend services in the church for the first time since the facility on Wheaton Avenue burned Aug. 2, 2011.
Most of the estimated $1 million in repairs and upgrades are complete. Workers are getting as much done as possible not only in time for Sunday’s service, but for the celebratory open house that runs from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday.
The church — which had undergone about $200,000 in work in 2009 — suffered extensive damage from fire, smoke, soot and water.
Green said the cause of the fire was never fully determined, but he and members of the congregation believe it was arson. The church was entered that day when a rear glass door was broken, he said, and musical instruments were stolen.
“You have to have a big leap of faith to believe they are not connected,” Green said.
Since the fire, the congregation has held Sunday services at Millville High School. Midweek services were held at the New Life Church.
Green said he has nothing but praise for local school and city officials who have helped his 120-member congregation through the past year.
On Tuesday, Green was happy to show off the repaired and remodeled church in which his congregation will gather Sunday.
The building has new carpet and tile. There is an educational center where people can take college courses. The kitchen went from being something you find in a home to a full-scale commercial enterprise. Electrical, fire suppression and other safety systems were brought up to construction code, something that Green said took up much of the renovation costs.
Hanging on the front wall of the main worship area is a wooden cross that has special meaning for the congregation: The cross was made by church members when the church opened in the 1960s. The cross survived the fire.
The cross links the church’s past with its future, Green said.
When asked if he has any special passages from the Bible that he will deliver to his congregation Sunday, Green laughed, saying he has delivered many inspirational messages to his congregation during the past year.
But Green said there is one message that he believes sums up what happened here: God will bring heaven from the ashes.
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