SIDNEY — Greenview United Church of Christ has weathered a storm which has lasted 10 months. And it all started on the day of the eclipse, Aug. 21, 2017.
On that day, an arsonist set numerous fires in the church’s sanctuary. It’s taken almost a year, but Sunday services have moved back to the church from The Center, which is across the street from the church.
To symbolize the journey, the congregation will rededicate the church on Sunday, June 24, during its 10 a.m. service. The church will open at 8:30 a.m. so members of the congregation can walk through the newly-repaired sanctuary and church. Refreshments will be served prior to the church service.
Following the service, a luncheon will be held for the congregation and guests. To RSVP, contact the church at 937-492-9571.
Both the Rev. Larry Grunden and Board of Deacons Chairman Shirley Foster remember the day vividly.
“Shirley and Joyce Peters discovered the fire,” said Grunden.
“We had come to church to do some work on the 50th anniversary celebration,” said Foster. “We smelled smoke.”
The pair walked toward the sanctuary and Foster screamed that there was a fire.
“I went into the office and called the fire department,” said Foster. “We left the church.”
After the firefighters put out the fire, the full scope of damage was discovered. The arsonist had set items on fire at six different locations in the sanctuary. The front altar and the Bible resting on it were set on fire. The Bible was destroyed and the altar had a large hole in it, which has been repaired.
“The person came down the pews and set more Bibles on fire,” said Grunden. Three pews had holes burned in them from the fire.
There was foam in the area where the Bell Choir practices. That was also set fire. The smoke from all the fires went through the ventilation system so the entire church suffered smoke damage.
“The firemen told us we were lucky the sanctuary doors were closed,” said Foster. “It stopped the air from from getting in there.”
If the air flow would have gone into the sanctuary, the fire would have been a lot bigger and damaged the church more.
Repairs to the church includes painting, a new furnace and a new air conditioning unit.
“We’ve had to replace everything due to the smoke damage,” said Foster.
Since the fire, the congregation has held its services in The Center.
“I think we had our biggest Easter crowd since I’ve been here,” said Grunden, who has served as pastor for 7 1/2 years. “We have received a lot of support from other churches and people wanting to help.”
The congregation held at work party to get the church ready for its first service on June 10. Foster’s granddaughter was baptized during the service, making it a more of a special occasion for her family.
“It’s been a long process,” said Grunden. “People have been very patient.”
“I’m thankful we had The Center for our services,” said Foster.
And while they are grateful to be back in the UCC sanctuary, the pair said the time in The Center has brought the congregation closer together.
“The pulpit was closer to the congregation in The Center,” said Grunden. “My wife has told me I preach different there. I may move down closer to the congregation (at Greenview).”
“But there was something missing at The Center,” said Foster.
In addition to the rededication ceremony, the congregation will also observe its 50th anniversary. The celebration was still held in 2017 following the fire, but Grunden and the Board of Deacons wanted to observe the anniversary with the rededication ceremony.
There will also be a celebration of the 20th anniversary of members of the First United Church of Christ, of Piqua, joining the Greenview church. The Piqua church closed its doors 20 years ago and members of the church made the decision that Greenview would be their new church for worship.
“It’s been a wonderful journey for them,” said Grunden. “They have been a blessing to our congregation. They were looking for a peaceful church and they found it here.”
Also included in the rededication ceremony will be a church history shared by Foster, thank you’s to people and businesses who assisted with the work at the church since the fire and the dedication of the new Bible which is now on the front altar. Shelbly County Sheriff John Lenhart is also expected to speak at the service.
“I recently talked to Sheriff Lenhart and he said they have no significant leads,” said Foster. “He’s going to say something at the service Sunday.”
The original Bible was donated to the church by the Leckey family. The new Bible has been donated by the descendants of the original donors. The Bible has been donated in memory of William and Edith Leckey, Robert and Janice Leckey and Steven Leckey.
Both Grunden and Foster are grateful for the community’s support over the past 10 months.
They said Lowe’s and Walmart have made donations for the repairs. The Believe store in Anna, along with Adams Funeral Home, have given the church donations.
“St. Paul UCC in Sidney has loaned us equipment and speakers,” said Foster.
With community support and lots of prayers, Greenview UCC is ready whatever happens in the next 50 years.
Reach the writer at 937-538-4822.