By Ed Brock
The building that housed Evangel Temple Bible Church for more than two decades is badly damaged, but the church itself is still strong, Pastor James Richter said.
And miracles seem to have abounded in the wake of the fire on May 22 at the Morrow-area house of worship on Rex Road.
It began with how Richter found a temporary meeting place for the congregation of more than 150 people at New Testament Baptist Church next door a couple of days after the fire.
"I hadn't been to the Ryan's Steakhouse in Stockbridge for months but that was the only place I felt like going for lunch," Richter said. "And when I got there, who should meet me at the salad bar with tears in his eyes but (New Testament's) Rev. Curtis Turner saying he was sorry to hear about it and how can we help."
Now the congregation is holding services at 2:15 p.m. every Sunday in the F.G. Balliew Building behind New Testament's Chapel through this month.
And there's more. The records for the 65 students at Evangel Temple Christian Academy that were kept in regular, non-fireproof filing cabinets in school Principal Forrest Fraley's office that was in the part of the building hardest hit by the fire survived with only some singing around the edges.
The church records survived as well, Richter said.
"Finding out that the records are intact, I can't think of anything that can't be replaced," Richter said.
Part of the second floor in the rear of the building where the school was housed collapsed and most of the damage from the fire, which appears to be related to an electrical fault, occurred there.
"Right now we're thinking the back section will have to come down," said Bob Richards, project manager with Guide One Taylor Ball Construction Services that is handling the restoration of the building.
Richards and Richter said it might be some 10 months before the building is ready for use again. In the meantime church members are salvaging what they can such as old pictures of previous pastors.
The homecoming for the students and the graduations for the school's seniors had to be held in other facilities at New Testament and Travelers Rest Baptist Church on Rex Road. Richter said the school would probably have to meet in temporary facilities all next year as well.
News of the fire hit the students hard, Fraley said.
"At first they were concerned about the possibility of there not being a school any more," Fraley said. "Once we assured them that we would start school again in the fall they were OK."
Congregation member Evelyn Tomlin was shocked when she heard about the fire.
"I called back when they told me to make sure I wasn't dreaming," Tomlin said.
But the community's response has been fantastic, Tomlin and Richter said.
"I would like to thank the community for the outpouring of love during this time," Richter said. "You don't know who you're friends are until you need them and we realize we have more friends than we knew."
Richter's son James Richter Jr. has been handling many of the day to day duties with his father and others, including the search for a building or buildings they can rent to house the church and school. They need about 10,000 square feet for both and can pay about $2,500 to $3,000 a month, the younger Richter said.
"When we find something along those lines (in terms of space) they're asking several thousand dollars more than we can do," James Richter Jr. said.
The elder Richter said they also need a place for the usual Friday night "safe place" for teen-agers where they can play games, sing and keep away from peer pressure to engage in unsafe actions like drinking and drug use.
The fire also left the members of visiting ministry True Believers Ministry without a meeting place, the Rev. Anthony Britt said. They had previously been planning to find their own building eventually, Britt said, but the fire accelerated those plans.
"We may go back, it depends on what happens while we're out," Britt said. "We've looked at a couple of places."
Anyone who may have a facility or facilities that Evangel Temple can use can call the church at (404) 366-2331. They can call Britt at (404) 452-5034.
By next week, updates on the progress of rebuilding the church and other information will be available at www.etbc.us, Richter said.