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April 19, 2014

Church resurrected: Prairie Creek church that burned in the midst of a winter storm ready for rebirth

PRAIRIE CREEK — From the ashes of a devastating winter fire comes out a church reborn.

Four and a half months ago, during a powerful snowstorm, a late-night blaze destroyed the 137-year-old sanctuary of the First Prairie Creek Baptist Church, which sits on top of a hill in the small southwest Vigo County town.

Every Sunday since that fateful night, including today — Easter Sunday — the church’s regular attendees have been gathering for services at the Prairie Creek Community Center, just a few blocks away.

 On Good Friday, as the congregation, with regular attendance of about 80 people, prepared for the weekend services commemorating the suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus, three long-time congregation members and their pastor sat around a table inside a temporary shelter near the church, reflected on their recent journey and talked about holding firm to God’s plan as the church reconstruction is nearing its completion.

From where she was sitting, Jean Trendelman — a long time church member — can probably see the already built exterior of the new white church visible through the window, as she said that the construction of the building itself seems to show “how the church is being resurrected.”

“It’s also, to me, a resurrection of our spiritual growth because it made us realize what God can do,” said the 83-year-old Sunday school teacher at the church.

The new and bigger church — which is scheduled to be completed in July — will consist of a rebuilt sanctuary, a connecting hallway with classrooms and offices, and a fellowship area, that includes two classrooms, a kitchen and utility storage. Plans are also in place to equip the area for weddings and other events.

The basement of the church, where almost everything fell during the fire, had been eliminated.

The ministry hasn’t changed, it’s just in a new facility, Pastor Kevin Dobson said.

“This is an opportunity to have a greater impact serving the community.”

A Story of Hope

When the fire took place Dec. 5 of last year, construction was under way to add on to the church. That addition includes a new fellowship area and a wing, connecting the area to the sanctuary. The fire did spread into a small portion of the connecting wing and some of it had to be torn down and rebuilt. Only the fellowship hall remained.

Everything in the sanctuary was destroyed, including the church’s piano and organ. Its 158-year-old bell was melted.

“The night of the fire was so heartbreaking,” recalled Jean, who is a 33-year church member and a nearby resident. She and her husband, Don, saw the flames from their home. “We knew immediately that the church was on fire.”

It was a blow to the community.

“Our brothers and sisters here are closer than our own relatives,” Don, 87, said. The Trendelmans have been attending First Prairie Creek Baptist Church since 1981 and have served the church as Sunday school teachers.

“It’s just like family. When it hurts, we all hurt,” Don said.

The hurt was also felt by lifelong member Rosemary Turley, who has “been here since I’ve been born.” The 75-year-old has been playing the piano and the organ at the church since she was 12-years-old.

The members always had hope, Rosemary, who leads the music ministry, said.

“But that’s just a building. The church is made up of the people, and the people are still here,” Rosemary said.

The church has been a presence in the community since local residents were led by missionary Isaac McCoy and his friend Daniel Boone to form the church in May 1816. The first church building was used for 22 years, and the second was used for 36 years, according to church files.

The most recent sanctuary was competed in 1876.

“We knew that He [God] had a plan,” Rosemary said.

Pastor Kevin Dobson said that after grieving the loss of the church building, “we were prepared to move into the future that God had in store for us,” he said.

After the fire, the insurance company immediately did its work, and the clean-up process started. Later, the architect worked on plans for the new sanctuary. Many people from the community offered help to the church after the fire, the members said. A piano, an organ and a cast iron church bell were just a few items donated to the church by different individuals. The church bell is being donated by a man who lives in northern Indiana, Dobson said.

“I’m so thankful for God’s provision in this,” Dobson said.

One noticeable change to the church was the placement of the steeple. It used to be at the top of the main sanctuary, but it will soon be installed at the center of the newly expanded facility.

The new entrance will also be in the central part of the church, below the steeple and the church bell.

The church’s steeple, which was always lit up at night, has been a symbol for many people of the reality of God, Dobson said. And because God exists, “there’s hope,” even amid adversity.

A document compiled for the church’s 180th anniversary in 1996 explains just what this steeple — and the church — means to the Prairie Creek community.

It read, “As one travels down Highway 63 south of Terre Haute and reaches the top of the Hauger Hill, he spies a church steeple. Many strangers have spoken of its beauty and challenge. It seems to reach out toward the Heavens and beacons one on.”

Tribune-Star Reporter Dianne Frances D. Powell can be reached at 812-231-4299 or dianne.powell@tribstar.com.

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