Covington’s Church 213 nearing September occupancy after 2015 fire

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Church 213's foundational scripture verse of Philippians 2:13 was painted on the floor when the concrete was laid and will undergo touch-up before the flooring is laid in the entrance. JOE WESTBURY/Index

Church 213’s foundational scripture verse of Philippians 2:13 was painted on the floor when the concrete was poured. It will undergo touch-up before the flooring is laid in the foyer. JOE WESTBURY/Index

COVINGTON — It seems that tragedies frequently come in threes.

For Church 213 its plague of locusts began with an electrical fire that destroyed its sanctuary and educational space in February 2015. Then as the congregation was trying to get back on its feet to rebuild, someone looted the church office – a single-wide mobile home – taking every donated item that churches had given them. Gone were 6 computers ranging from laptops to desktops and a variety of furnishings. But the individual didn’t stop there; the bookshelves were completely ransacked with contents scattered on the floor.

And then they went a step further. While the theft wasn’t bad enough, the individual emptied the fire extinguisher in the structure, spraying all the walls, ceiling, and floors with the powdery chemical. And then they left a trail of graffiti all over the building, the sole survivor of the fire.

Everything that remained in the trailer – as well as the walls, ceiling, and floors – had to be individually cleaned and dusted from the spray. It was just insult to injury.

What could possibly happen next?

Members could not help but wonder what would happen next, pastor Stan Patterson says.

Holly Hayes, Church 213 building team leader, says the church is on schedule for a Sept. 18 dedication. JOE WESTBURY/Index

Holly Hayes, Church 213 building team leader, says the church is on schedule for a Sept. 18 dedication. JOE WESTBURY/Index

But there was never another shoe to drop. The clouds slowly parted and the sun began to shine again, though it wasn’t always a cloudless day.

“Up until the fire we were outgrowing our original structure and had entered a capital fund-raising campaign that centered around a new worship center. The old building was going to be used as educational space,” Patterson explains from a chair in the sole remaining structure – the mobile home-turned-office.

“Our former sanctuary had 3,400 square feet and seated about 130; our new center would have 5,000 square feet and seat 300,” he continues.

The reality is the fire and looting nearly destroyed those dreams for expansion and a more viable ministry in the growing community.

“It would have taken all of our pledges to the new structure plus the small amount of insurance money we were going to receive just to replace that former structure that had been hauled away,” Patterson says. “There would have been no growth built into the new structure.”

“Back to where we started”

“I’m a generally upbeat and very positive kind of guy and it takes a lot to get me down but I came close after those series of events. That’s when I told our congregation that without God giving us a building we were pretty much back to where we started.”

And that’s exactly what He did. To everyone’s surprise, their greatest need lay abandoned in a field, grown up with grass and exposed to the elements. And that’s where the story really begins – unknown to them the abandoned sanctuary, still unpacked, was waiting for Church 213.

Volunteers from across Georgia – members of Bold Mission Builders founded by Stone Mountain Baptist Association – have been working throughout the summer to assemble the new sanctuary. JOE WESTBURY/Index

Volunteers from across Georgia – members of Bold Mission Builders founded by Stone Mountain Baptist Association – have been working throughout the summer to assemble the new sanctuary. JOE WESTBURY/Index

It appears that a church ­– no one knows exactly which one – had purchased the unassembled steel building to expand its youth ministry but placed its construction on hold when its pastor accepted a call from another church. The congregation felt it would let the new pastor decide his priorities and not proceed until the position was filled.

That could easily take a year so the building lay neglected in the field. Eventually it was sold to four different churches who, for one reason or another, decided not to erect the structure. So, for nearly a dozen years it lay in various fields, subject to wind and rain and freeing temperatures in winter, blazing heat in summer.

Abandoned in a field in Madison

Its final four years found it laying in a field in Madison as it made its way around Middle Georgia. Then it made its way to Church 213

“It was in amazingly good shape when we unpacked in May,” says Church 213 Building Team Leader Holly Hayes. “God just kept moving it around until it got to us.”

Pastor Stan Patterson shows the original expansion plans ... that figuratively went up in smoke when the previous sanctuary burned in February 2015. JOE WESTBURY/Index

Pastor Stan Patterson shows the original expansion plans … that figuratively went up in smoke when the previous sanctuary burned in February 2015. JOE WESTBURY/Index

That’s one of the first of a chain of events which bolstered the small church’s confidence.

First, local news coverage of the fire resulted in a phone call from a contractor who identified himself as a Christian and offered to clear the fire debris and haul it away at no charge. Then a woman called to donate a baby grand piano which she was no longer using. Crossroads Church in Newnan donated 650 very comfortable chairs for the new worship center as they upgraded their sanctuary.

In late June, just a couple of hundred feet from the former site, nearly 50 construction volunteers of all ages hammered and sawed from morning until night to assemble the building. When completed it will provide 13,260 feet and include a 300-seat worship center but also the church office and educational space under one roof.

“Everything we needed – the roof, frame, all insulation – was in perfect condition after all those years,” Hayes say while walking through the hub of activity. “This was something that only God could do.”

Volunteers of all ages hard at work

On this warm June day, children scurried around bringing water to tired workers, teens cut lumber under adult supervision, women supported upright wood framing as walls were assembled. A few minutes earlier the large team had been enjoying a hearty lunch provided by Chic-fil-A and fruit and desserts prepared by a local church. Various congregations coordinated their meal preparations to assure that the volunteers always had plenty of hearty food served under the large tent on loan from the Georgia Baptist Mission Board’s revival tent ministry. Eating on site allows the team to be more efficient and return to work without trips into town; teams prepare their evening meals in area church kitchens.

The new plans, as shown by Patterson, will increase square footage from the original plan from 3,500 to 5,000 and have all educational, office, and worship center space under one roof. JOE WESTBURY/Index

The new design, as shown by Patterson, will increase square footage from the original plan from 3,500 to 5,000 and have all educational, office, and worship center space under one roof. JOE WESTBURY/Index

Ken Brooks, associate pastor of First Baptist Church in Cochran, oversaw the work of his volunteers during this week in June. His church and two others – Mount Calvary Baptist Church and Salem Baptist Church – provided workers as part of their involvement in Bold Mission Builders, a ministry founded by Stone Mountain Baptist Association.

Being a part of something that is God-led

“It’s such a blessing to help churches with their construction needs. Everyone wants to be part of something that is God-led and that’s why we have so many volunteers,” Brooks said during a break in his lunch hour.

“Whether you can only use a hammer or just hand out water bottles there is a place where your skills can be used. And if you don’t have any skills we’ll teach you how to pound nails or saw wood.”

Patterson praised the work being performed by First Cochran’s 42 volunteers and the 26 from Central Baptist Church of Douglasville the previous week.

“People in the community ask us how we are doing this so quickly and we tell them its just amazing what happens when people respond to God. When these teams show up we do not see them as strangers but as family, brothers and sisters in Christ. We have an immediate connection,” he explained.

And that goes for local support, as well.

Local churches provide worship locations

Since the Feb. 15, 2015 fire the congregation has been worshiping in the youth annex at First Baptist Covington.

Marsha Rabitsch, left in purple, and Sarah McMichael, right, serve ice cold beverages during a hot June lunch break. JOE WESTBURY/Index

Marsha Rabitsch, left in purple, and Sarah McMichael, right, serve ice cold beverages during a hot June lunch break. JOE WESTBURY/Index

“We never missed a Sunday morning there or space provided on Wednesday night  by Mansfield United Methodist Church. While we appreciate their generosities we are really looking forward to being in our own worship center, hopefully for a Sept. 18 dedication,” Patterson added.

Walking from the new sanctuary to the former site … a concrete sidewalk leading to an empty burned-out stretch of land … Hayes and Patterson pause to look over the empty site.

“We have a lot of good memories in there, a lot of people got saved and turned their lives around. Satan tried to kill us twice but God obviously wants a church here,” Patterson says as he turns to view the new building taking shape in the hot sun.

The sound of hammers and saws bears testimony to that statement and the goodness of God and the congregation’s bright future. Church 213 is attracting visitors from 7 counties with two-thirds of new members joining through baptism rather than transfer of letter.

“We have a lot of new Christians who we are busy discipling,” Patterson says. “We are growing future leaders from the ground up but we really appreciate when we gain a new member with a church background who has leadership skills,” he says with a chuckle.

Church 213 is not the Kentucky native’s first church plant; that was Lakeside Baptist Church in Greensboro at Lake Oconee. Following that period and he and his wife, Nancy, moved to First Baptist in Jackson. Then God laid the challenge of starting another church, which he didn’t take too kindly to at the outset.

“God called me to start another church. I resisted for a while but he won,” he adds.

 

Local churches provide hearty lunches while volunteers prepare their own dinners in church kitchens which also provide housing. JOE WESTBURY/Index

Local churches provide hearty lunches while volunteers prepare their own dinners in church kitchens which also provide housing. JOE WESTBURY/Index

Honor Roll of churches providing volunteer labor

June 4 – 10

A team from Central Baptist in Douglasville begin framing the inside of the new metal building.

June 12 – 17

Teams from Cochran, including Bethany Baptist, First Baptist of Lakeview, Mt. Calvary and Salem continued to finish out the inside of the building.

June 19 – 24

Volunteers from First Baptist of Forest Park, Bethel Baptist in Americus, and First Baptist of Mansfield were onsite.

July 9 – 15

Teams from First Baptist in Winterville and Dean Forest Baptist in Savannah joined the construction effort.

July 18 – 22

Mid-July saw workers from Macedonia in Oxford, North Rockdale in Conyers, Cedar Rock in Jackson, Zion in Covington, Bethel CM in Butler, and First Baptist in Covington.

The heat was so intense in the sole remaining building – a single wide mobile home – that the blinds began to warp. JOE WESTBURY/Index

The heat was so intense in the sole remaining building – a single wide mobile home – that the blinds began to warp. JOE WESTBURY/Index

July 24-29

Volunteers from LifeSong Church in Griffin, River Hills in Winder, and Fusion Church in Madison – all new church starts ­– are scheduled to work. Both LifeSong and Fusion had previous possession of the steel building that ended up at Church 213.

 

Scott Cathcart of Zion Baptist Church in Covington served as a project leader for a week in mid-June. JOE WESTBURY/Index week

Scott Cathcart of Zion Baptist Church in Covington served as a project leader for a week in mid-June. JOE WESTBURY/Index

 

Lunch always began with a prayer for safety of the volunteers and gratitude for the churches that were providing their meals. JOE WESTBURY

Lunch always began with a prayer for safety of the volunteers and gratitude for the churches that were providing their meals. JOE WESTBURY

 

Holly Hayes and Stan Patterson stand at what used to be the front door of the growing congregation which was quickly reduced to burned ashes. The building, a double-wide mobile chapel, had been donated to the new church start by the Georgia Baptist Convention (now Georgia Baptist Mission Board). JOE WESTBURY/Index

Holly Hayes and Stan Patterson stand at what used to be the front door of the growing congregation which was quickly reduced to ashes. The building, a double-wide mobile chapel, had been donated to the new church start by the Georgia Baptist Convention (now Georgia Baptist Mission Board). JOE WESTBURY/Index

 

Church 213 is not Stan Patterson's first church plant – that was Lakeside Baptist Church in Greensboro on Lake Oconee. But, with a guarded laugh, he readily admits it is the most challenging of the two. JOE WESTBURY/Index

Church 213 is not Stan Patterson’s first church plant – that was Lakeside Baptist Church in Greensboro on Lake Oconee. But, with a guarded laugh, he readily admits it is the most challenging of the two. JOE WESTBURY/Index

 

Marie Botkin and Evelyn Ozee, both of Mount Zion Baptist Church, and Joan Brown of Church 213, visit during the lunch hour. JOE WESTBURY

Marie Botkin and Evelyn Ozee, both of Mount Zion Baptist Church, and Joan Brown of Church 213, visit during the lunch hour. JOE WESTBURY

 

Dylan Collins of Church 213, left, and Leala Hutchens and Carlyn Wells of First Cochran, center and right, move boards as part of the younger volunteers. JOE WESTBURY/Index

Dylan Collins of Church 213, left, and Leala Hutchens and Carlyn Wells of First Cochran, center and right, move boards as part of the younger volunteers. JOE WESTBURY/Index

 

Patterson walks the shell of the steel building as the sanctuary takes place around him. The growing congregation is reaching people from 7 counties ... with two-thirds of its new members joining through baptism rather than transfer of letter. JOE WESTBURY/Index

Patterson walks the shell of the steel building as the sanctuary takes place around him. The growing congregation is reaching people from 7 counties … with two-thirds of its new members joining through baptism rather than transfer of letter. JOE WESTBURY/Index

 

Holly Hayes of Church 213 and Ken Brooks of First Cochran discuss the week's timeline during a mid-June work week. JOE WESTBURY/Index

Holly Hayes of Church 213 and Ken Brooks of First Cochran discuss the week’s timeline during a mid-June work week. JOE WESTBURY/Index

 

There is no doubt the church in East Newton County is coming back bigger and stronger than before the fire. Residents' curiosity is piqued by the side which draws them in to see the construction progress at a surprising rate. JOE WESTBURY/Index

There is no doubt the church in East Newton County is coming back bigger and stronger than before the fire. Residents’ curiosity is piqued by the side which draws them in to see the construction progress at a surprising rate. JOE WESTBURY/Index

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