MILTON – A fire has twice threatened the future of Bethany United Methodist Church and each time its faithful have decided to rebuild.
Nearly 50 parishioners returned to Bethany United on Sunday for their official grand reopening service.
The church had been closed since a fire on November 26, 2019, caused severe damage and temporarily displaced worshipers.
The great fire of 1880 consumed seven churches in the district and almost all other buildings of the time.
Construction of a ânewâ Bethany United Church began in 1882. All seven were eventually rebuilt.
In 2019, firefighters saved the Gothic-style church from the same fate of having completely burned down.
âThe exterior, what you see looks exactly like what you would see in 1882. The interior is brand new. It’s really beautiful, âsaid church member Mike Longenberger.
Poole Anderson Construction of State College and five contractors completed construction and renovations.
The project was led by church leaders and former pastor, Reverend William L. McNeal, who has since retired. Reverend Travis Allshouse was assigned to the church on July 1.
Allshouse was not familiar with the two fires. He was running a church in Shermansdale, Perry County, when he learned of his new assignment. When he visited his family in March, the building was not yet under roof, he recalls.
âMy first thought was, oh my god, what am I going to do,â Allshouse said. âI relied on my faith and knew I was called here for a reason. “
The shrine and community hall look brand new from floor to ceiling. Mechanical upgrades include a new wet and dry sprinkler system as well as a hardwired smoke detection system to alert first responders if detected.
Utilities have been moved to the first floor as a flood protection measure.
New features include a video screen at the front of the shrine used for video clips and hymn lyrics. The church now has Wi-Fi throughout the building and a mini production studio for recording or live streaming of services.
Two of the church’s stained glass windows are now on display inside the sanctuary, adding to a flood of natural light. The windows were previously covered from the inside, visible from the outside only.
A hand-painted mural listing each of the 10 commandments is also on display in the community hall.
Once hidden years ago during an interior renovation, the mural is now a centerpiece. No one is certain of the age of the mural, Allshouse said, although it is believed that it could date from the construction of the church nearly 140 years ago.
Costs have approached $ 4 million, Allshouse said. The church was insured.
Allshouse said he invited McNeal to the Sunday service, but United Methodist Church policy prevented the return of a former pastor.
Ron Huff and his wife, Barbara, of New Columbia, have a long-standing connection with the church. They got married there in 1968.
Barbara greeted visitors on Sunday while Ron waited for her to join him on a bench.
âThey did a great job,â Ron said of the rebuild.
Betty Blyler grew up in the church. She remembers visiting her sister’s house a few blocks from the church on the day of the 2019 fire. First, she heard sirens. She later saw smoke rise above the horizon. Eventually, she witnessed the spread of flames on the roof of the church.
âI really wanted to see them rebuild it because it’s a central point of the city,â Blyler said. âI am very happy to be here. I think they did a very good job.