SOMERTON - When members of the Somerton United Methodist Church finished services and closed the front door of their 1873 historic brick church Sunday, June 24, 2012, they had no idea that would be their last service in the historic 1873 building.
Five days later, one of the most destructive and deadly fast-moving severe thunderstorm complexes in North American history claimed 22 lives and damaged thousands of buildings over a 600-mile path from Chicago to Washington, D.C., including the little brick church in Somerton.
In October, following several months of structural and financial assessments, the congregation made the painful decision to demolish the building.
THE UNITED Methodist Church in Somerton had stood for 139 years before being damaged in June of last year. The congregation decided in October 2012 to demolish the building, and efforts are under way to construct a new church.
Immediately, plans were launched to write the next chapter of the history for this congregation dating back to 1831.
And exactly one year after the storm, with faith and prayer, members hope to break ground this summer and to hold their first service in the new home by Christmas. Reaching that goal will require $550,000 to erect and complete the new sanctuary and finish the shell of the planned attached fellowship hall.
To date, the group has $245,000 from insurance, savings, donations and fund-raisers, about half of what they need to get into the new sanctuary by the end of the year.
"We have enough to get started and expect to take the building as far as funds will permit," noted Pastor Jean Cooper, anticipating "that the needs will be met as time goes by, and that we can begin holding services once the sanctuary is finished."
To raise the needed funding, a number of community dinners, sales, and fund-raisers have been staged to date, the most recent a rigatoni dinner at the Somerton Fire Hall last Saturday night.
And others congregations are also pitching in. The Batesville United Methodist Church is staging a "fund-raiser picnic" at the Batesville Park Saturday from 3-9 p.m. to benefit the church building campaign.
Donations of manpower, machinery and professional efforts logged to date include several individuals and business including Bennoc Coal and Stumptown Lumber and Pallet Shops. More help has been promised once the capital campaign moves into the construction phase.
DHL Design of Marietta is the architect for the new church. This firm, headed by David Haught, is the same one that designed the new sanctuary a few years ago for the nearby Jerusalem congregation. The proposed one-story Somerton structure will consist of a 2,853-square foot sanctuary and a 2,231-square foot fellowship hall with kitchen that also will serve as classrooms with moveable dividers.
The new church will be constructed on the north lot, site of the former Detling/Wittenbrook residence and the Wilson/Gibbons store. A parking lot will round out the rest of the lot where the old church and another residence once stood.
The congregation saved as much as they could from the historic church including pews, furnishings, even the kitchen sink. They hope to use most of this in the new building.
The historic windows will be incorporated into the interior design, the bell will be prominently featured as part of the landscape plan, and the "1873" date stone, although damaged, will likely be featured as part of the church's history in the new building.
Recently, a church member noted, "It is very refreshing in a time of great need that companies, neighbors, families and friends ask 'What can we do?' and then back it up with no reservations."
Former residents or those whose ancestors worshipped at the Somerton church also are encouraged to honor their past association with the church and community with donations to the building fund.
Today in place of the old brick church is a large banner proclaiming, "Rebuilding Campaign for Somerton United Methodist Church We, the Somerton U.M.C. congregation, by faith, are beginning to rebuild our church believing that God will provide the necessary funds to finish."
Tax-deductible donations to help the Somerton congregation hold services by Christmas in the planned new home may be sent to Somerton U.M.C., 55400 Washington St., Barnesville, OH 43713.
Those seeking additional information about how they can help the building campaign should contact Pastor Cooper at (740) 310-2868.