Gospel concert opens effort to rebuild burned church


The Rev. Ammie Phifer pointed matter-of-factly yesterday to a doll, a few children's books and other charred remnants from the January fire that destroyed her Northwest Baltimore church.

The way Phifer sees it, instead of dwelling on the blaze that raced through Renew Hope Christian Community Church eight months ago, it's time to start raising money to rebuild the facility, which also housed a day care center.

So Phifer, who is pastor, and other Renew Hope members organized yesterday's "Gospel Explosion" concert at Shiloh Christian Community Church Fellowship Hall in West Baltimore, where the ruined items were displayed. It is expected to be the first of many fund-raisers for the church, which Phifer says will cost at least $1 million to rebuild.

"We are trying to raise $500,000," Phifer said before the concert. "I know we had $500,000 coverage, but the insurance people and the furnace people are still trying to figure out who was to blame."

John R. Watson, an adjuster for Smith-Watson Inc., said documents have been submitted to Church Mutual Insurance Co. but church members could have a lengthy wait for a settlement.

To help out in the meantime, Phifer has asked 1,000 churches and businesses for assistance.

Fire investigators attributed the Jan. 30 blaze to a faulty oil-fed furnace on the second floor. But the fire's cause likely wasn't on the minds of the nearly 160 people who paid up to $10 each - tickets were $7 in advance - for yesterday's event.

Yvonne Greene, 61, said she just wanted to hear some good gospel music. "It's just a blessing to be around the saints of God," said Greene, of West Baltimore. "And I wanted to help the church out."

So did The Mighty Aires, a seven-member group that traveled by van from Wilmington, Del., to perform.

"God put us out here for a reason," said Deacon Sylvester Finney, lead singer and manager. "If we can't at times help others, to bless them so that we may get blessings, then we're not going about our Father's work."

Finney, his wife, Rosetta, their son, Chuck, their daughter, Bonita Yancey and three family friends - LeKeshia Miller, Curtis Clack and Marvin Harris - sang three hymns, including "Because He Lives."

Participants heard about 20 minutes of prayer and testimonials before the singing.

"Because we've been in a fire, God, we still have no reason to hold our heads down, because You've been good to us," the Rev. Kenneth Flight said in prayer.

Joining him on stage was the Rev. Reggie Phifer, who said in an interview that his mother's faith has helped church members deal well with the fire.

"We look to her as the head of the church on how to handle it," he said. "When we went there that night [on Jan. 30] we looked to her on how to take it. She shed a few tears, but she said God will provide."

Many Renew Hope members attended yesterday's event, including Mary and Curtis Whittenburg, who joined the church only two weeks before the blaze.

"My husband and I love it," Mary Whittenburg said. "We all know each other personally; we're like a family and we do things together."

Members like the Whittenburgs were confirmation for Phifer that her decision to rebuild at the original location - 2509 Garrett Ave. - is the right one.

To donate: Renew Hope Christian Community Church, 4909 Belair Road, Baltimore 21206

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