'Happy birthday, Lazarus': Church destroyed by fire is rebuilt

With choruses of handbells and more than a few happy tears, the members of the Lazarus United Church of Christ held their first service in the newly-built sanctuary Sunday morning.

“I have all kinds of excitement going through my body this morning,” pastor Rodney Gross said as he addressed the congregation.

“I’ve said it many times at the fire hall and I will say it for the first time at the church— If loving the people of Lineboro is wrong, I will never be right.”

A fire in December 2013 destroyed the old building, which had stood since 1853. Its bell tower was a familiar sight in Lineboro.

Now, a new stone memorial houses the bell in a space next to the cemetery adjoining the church. The weathered grey stone of the historic headstones sit just feet behind the beside the brand new brick and stucco of the church’s walls.

Inside the building, there are physical reminders of the old Lazarus, most visibly the cross in the sanctuary, which is formed of bricks recovered from the building. As of Sunday morning, finishing touches were still being made on the alter, which Mike Utz is handcrafting from reclaimed wood. Two strips of it are also inlaid into the walls next to the cross, subtly blackened in places.

Other things carried over too. David Dickmyer, who just last week helped to unload furniture into the space, said Sunday’s service still had a feel of the old church, with many members sitting in the same areas of the pews that they did more than four years ago.

“Everybody had their own corners. They still do,” he said.

In the beginning of the first service, the group took time to wish happy birthday to members of the congregation. Barbara Trump, a church elder, piped up from the pews to say that really the day was the birthday for the church as well. Gross led the whole group as they exclaimed “Happy Birthday Lazarus.”

Trump said she has been a member of Lazarus all her life. She went through confirmation there and was later married there. For her, it was hard to find words to express what it felt like to hold the first service in the new building except “wonderful.”

Members of the consistory and the committees that have been involved in the planning and building of the edifice took time to speak too during the service.

A few tears were definitely shed as they spoke about a process of rebuilding that has taken more than four years. Some were there on the December morning of the fire and watched flames consume what they saw as their spiritual home. This first service, they said, was one of “excitement” and “relief.”

Mel Arbaugh, the architect of the new church who attended the service, said the level of involvement in the planning process stood out to him from his years in the industry.

“The underlying spirit of community was phenomenal,” he said.

The congregation of Lazarus didn’t reach this day without aid. In the years since the fire, the Lineboro Volunteer Fire Department’s hall has been their gathering place.

“They took us in right away. we didn’t miss a Sunday,” said Lynne Davidson.

Members of the community have provided prayers and monetary donations to the rebuilding effort, and area churches stepped in to help Lazarus continue their charitable services. For example, when the church had nowhere to go to host their food pantry, Millers United Methodist Church stepped in.

In the new facility, the members hope to see participation in regular community events including Sunday school classes, prayer breakfasts and book club meetings. More information is available by emailing lazaruscommunication@gmail.com or Lazarus United Church of Christ on Facebook.

On April 8, the Church will open its doors to all for a dedication service at 10 a.m..

It will be a day of gratefulness, Gross said. The church aims to open its arms to welcome all and serve as “a spiritual greenhouse where people can come and be nurtured,” he said.

To sum it all up, “Lazarus is on the move,” said Consistory President Rita Becker

Worship services begin at 10 a.m. every Sunday at 5101 South Church Street.


If you go

What: New building dedication service with reception luncheon to follow

When: 10 a.m. Sunday, April 8

Where: Park at the Lineboro Volunteer Fire Department, 4224 Main St., for shuttle service to the church, 5101 South Church St.

RSVP to lazaruscommunication@gmail.com or call 443-280-1497 or 443-375-1114.


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