By Jessica Brodie
LYNCHBURG—Two and a half years after fire from a lightning storm demolished Shiloh United Methodist Church’s sanctuary and fellowship hall, church members marked their successful rebuild with a dedication celebration.
Held March 8 in the newly constructed facility, the dedication featured words of hope from Florence District Superintendent John Hipp, Shiloh pastor the Rev. John Bolin and others who made the rebuild journey possible.
On Aug. 1, 2012, fire gutted the original church, built in 1831, causing an estimated $950,000 in structural damage alone. Patti McElveen, longtime member and church financial secretary, was one of the first to know about the blaze; her husband, Mitch, is fire chief, and she and her children cried as they watched their church home burn to the ground.
“We are a small town and it’s a family church,” McElveen said, noting the rebuild was “a long, long, long process.”
But the small congregation chose to remember that the church is not the building, it’s the people, and immediately decided to rebuild. They spent two years worshipping in the old Myers Store property right across the street, praising God in recliners and folding chairs instead of church pews.
Now, McElveen said, worship is going strong. They have been worshipping in the rebuilt sanctuary since November, so they were able to celebrate Christmas in the new space, and everything has been “really good,” she said.
“We’re all pretty excited about it at this point,” McElveen said. “I think it brought us all closer.”
New ministries have begun cropping up since the rebuild, such as a children’s outreach program that does a card ministry to the local community.
Bolin agreed that people are excited about the new building.
“It is a great facility, state-of-the-art, and you should see the sound room and the sound board—it looks like you’re flying a space ship!” Bolin said. “It has all the latest technological advances, plus we have a screen in the sanctuary and a mounted video projector. It’s just amazing.”
Bolin said the building process was a bit challenging. When people learned the building was going to cost upwards of $900,000, possibly more, they were worried.
“We’re a small membership church, and a lot of people were concerned—if we build this big church it might cost too much for us to afford,” Bolin said.
But to their surprise, their demolished facility was worth nearly the same amount, even though it had been standing nearly 200 years. And with updated code fixes and other things, Bolin said they didn’t need to borrow any money toward construction and are even getting some funds back.
Ronnie Johnson, Building Committee chair, said it’s great to be back in an actual church building after being elsewhere for so long.
“We’re a small country church, and we were all sad to see the old church burn,” Johnson said. It wasn’t easy, but the Lord has really blessed us with this new facility.”
Johnson said everyone was extremely eager to get into the new building, especially after construction started. What was supposed to be a one-year project ended up taking two years, but it was well worth the wait, he said.
Johnson personally hopes the new building will prompt Shiloh to grow in new ways—not only in members but in ministry.
Bolin agreed. He said the church has been doing much ministry from the storefront over the past few years, but he and the congregation are hopeful they’ll see heightened enthusiasm as more and more people are drawn through their brand-new doors.
And through this reinvigoration, Bolin said, “I’m hoping we’ll reiterate what Rev. Hipp said: the importance of being in the Shiloh community, of being a light for Christ and a voice for The United Methodist Church, to understand what’s our purpose. A lot of people get tied into the building, and I’ve said it before—the church is not a building; it’s people.
“But it’s good to have a central base.”