MILLVILLE — Services for the In His Presence Worship Center congregation here were supposed to start at 11 a.m. on Sunday.
But 50 minutes earlier, the congregation was already singing and clapping and sending shouts of halleluiah through the room.
Those joyful sounds came at a time when many people might think that the congregation could be mourning or in despair over the loss of their church on Broad Street. The church burned on Dec. 22, just a few hours before it was to hold a Christmas dinner for the less fortunate members of the center city neighborhood that surrounds the building.
For members of the congregation, the loss of the building does not mean the loss of their church.
“The church is the people,” said local resident Margaret Johnson. “We are here to give glory to the lord.”
“Here” is the former site of an electronics store at the Union Lake Crossing shopping center. The church moved into the 10,000-square-foot facility about three weeks ago after Goodman Properties, which manages the shopping center, donated the space.
Church members have worked to make the place as comfortable as possible. The floor is now covered with 4,000 square feet of donated carpet. The walls have fresh coats of white paint. There is even a whole new wall that church members built to stop their music and prayers from echoing annoyingly through their cavernous new home.
The fire and the conversion of the storefront to a place of worship did not tear this congregation apart, city resident Khadijah Ali said.
“It brought us closer together,” she said.
The Rev. David Ennis, a 47-year-old local resident who founded the nondenominational church a decade ago, said it appears as though the fire began when high winds blew a piece of flashing agent against a nearby power line. The resulting sparks touched off a fire at the church’s bell tower, he said.
The fire destroyed more than just a church.
The Broad Street building was a gathering point for people trying to help repair a neighborhood troubled by poverty and crime. The church held ministries for disadvantaged men, women and youths. Ennis has, throughout the years, been an outspoken opponent of violence.
Ennis said Sunday that he hopes to be able to stay in the shopping center for about six months, and that no decision has been reached about the church’s future location.
Still, Ennis said one wing of the Broad Street church complex can be used again after some repairs. A return to the site is not only possible, but something that should occur, he said.
The church’s mission is to help those in need, Ennis said, and returning to the Broad Street site will help fulfill that mission.
“We definitely want to get back there,” he said.
For now, the congregation will continue to meet at the shopping center site, where they will continue to turn the burning of their Broad Street into something that they say they will overcome with prayer and persistence.
That message was clear as Ennis began services on Sunday.
“Be excited that God gave you another day,” he said.
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