Saturday, April 11, 2009

A Church Rising From the Ashes

5390w3 - Raising Roof Beams

This is a photo from Hendricks Avenue Baptist Church in Jacksonville, Florida, currently under construction. It will replace the former church building that was destroyed by fire 2 days prior to Christmas 2007.

16855 - Old Sanctuary prior to fire

Rewind back to December 22, 2007 - three days before Christmas. That evening, the church was host to a benefit concert of Handel's Messiah given by the Jacksonville Symphony Orchestra. Late that night several hours after the conclusion of the concert, an air conditioner motor apparently overheated and caught fire. Before most people awoke the next morning, the church was gone.

35719 - Church still Smoldering 12/23/07 10:57am

This event surely impacted some people more than others, but I suspect it was probably the hardest on the elderly in our congregation who had formed so many memories both from events in their lives and those of their families inside that building. It was difficult to watch as we arrived at church and saw the firefighters still spraying water on the now smoldering ruins of the sanctuary where we normally spent our Sunday mornings. The steel beams that held up the roof were now melted and sagging below what had been the roof line. It was difficult to believe this was really happening. We had been members there for about 13 years at the time of the fire.

35744 - Inside Gymnasium - day of the fire

Services were held that morning in the church gymnasium. Ironically this is the same building where the church held its first services in 1946. So in a way, some may have felt they were right back where they had started. The sanctuary had been constructed in 1957 and had been renovated twice with the most recent renovation being completed in 2001, including the addition of a very large stained glass window depicting the outstretched hands of Christ. It would never be the same not being able to see that huge lighted stained glass window as we drove down Hendricks Avenue at night. I will probably never forget that morning, especially how our pastor stood in front of the congregation assembled in the gymnasium already with a hammer in his hand, declaring "we will rebuild".

36614 - Front Facade
Looking back, the fire may have actually brought people in the church closer together than ever before. We all joined in many work days where we did all sorts of cleanup. Additionally we managed to salvage a few pieces of furniture from adjacent offices. One morning, we dug up dozens of bushes and shrubs from around the site of the church and re-planted them in other locations on campus, prior to the demolition of what remained of the building. The concrete front facade of the building remained in place for several months even after the other walls were demolished and removed. It was lit by floodlights at night and stood a remembrance of what had been. In a strange way I was not quite ready for the last piece of the church to completely go away. But that too would soon be removed as we finalized plans for a new sanctuary.

Extensive work went into conducting listening sessions to gather input from members of the congregation to assist in determining what style of church should be built. While it's impossible to please everyone, this seems to have gone a long way toward determining how to meet the majority of the needs and wants of the church as a whole. A design was finally decided on while a capital campaign was conducted to try and raise money to cover the shortfall between the expected insurance settlement and the cost of the new sanctuary.
Construction finally began in late 2008, nearly a year after the fire, and was expected to be completed in time to hold Christmas services in the new Sanctuary in 2009. The new sanctuary would not be built in the same location, but instead would be located more in the center of the campus to facilitate better traffic flow and ease in getting from one place to another.

While the site prep work was going on it was difficult to see any progress visually, although progress was certainly being made. But in February the walls started going up and in March the concrete floor was poured. Then at the end of March, the roof beams started arriving and were being assembled and added. Now in the 2nd week of April, the roof frame is nearly complete and soon the workers will begin closing it in. Since now we can see so much progress being made, many are getting excited and are looking forward with anticipation.

5340 - Lowering a beam into position

62914 - New Sanctuary Construction

62891 - Assembling the massive roof beams
 Last week the choir sang Robert Ray's "Gospel Mass" for our Easter Musical. But we performed it a Lutheran Church across the street since we are still a few months away from having a sanctuary of our own. It was a nice change compared to holding services in our fellowship hall, where the sound is not nearly as good.

Just as Easter represents a new beginning for people of faith, the new sanctuary is sort of a new beginning for one north Florida congregation. Happy Easter!


  1. Sorry to hear about your church. Sometimes that is what it take to bring people back together.
    Happy Easter!

  2. I hope you had a wonderful Easter Holiday Tim. Your church looks cool in Dec 2007. I hope they restore its lost glory (in terms of looks).

  3. Constuctions seems to ne going full steam ahaed leys hope it gets finished soon :)

  4. Looks like things are moving along well. Glad there is progress the congregation can see. Blue Skies.

  5. wow, this is really fantastic, you are so talented Tim, a real joy to look at all your incredible bird shots

    Ilona from Holland