Bethel parishioners rally for church

PAT CROSSLEY/Sun-Gazette Correspondent Belva Stewart, a steward at Bethel A.M.E. Church, and 11-year-old Jenella Kirk read the announcements during the worship service Sunday. Displaced by the storm, the congregation met at Freedom House on Memorial Avenue.

Courage under fire was the message Pastor Cynthia Dallas-Kirk delivered to the Bethel A.M.E. Church congregation at its weekly service Sunday afternoon.

Because of the extensive damage caused by last Monday’s storm, parishoners met at Freedom House for their service.

Dallas-Wilke said God had directed her to a new topic instead of the one she’d originally planned to focus on during her sermon. She used the story of Shadach, Meschach and Abednego in the fiery furnace to illustrate how important it is to hold onto God in times of trouble.

“God sees all, God knows all and God is everywhere. Our God is our defender,” she said in her message. “God will protect His children. God has a shield around you.”

During the storm, a large portion of the roof was blown off of the church, which was built in 1886. Dallas-Kirk said rain then soaked the carpeted floor.

The congregation had thought they might be able to use the sanctuary once a tarp was put over the damaged roof, but the odor from the wet carpet made that impossible.

Even in the midst of what seems like a disaster, the pastor said she sees God at work.

“I looked at the roof and I thought, ‘God, you’re just trying to peel some stuff off of us,’ “ she said. “In my spirit, I see this as a blessing.”

If the roof had not been blown off, some structural problems with the building would not have been revealed, she said. Because of the building’s age, some of the wood had deteriorated. She said she had consulted someone familiar with construction and they said that the problems had been patched before and couldn’t be patched again.

She added that God said, “We’re not doing that; this is my house.”

“We need to assess the situation and get the correct professionals,” she said. “We have to show people that we can do it. We don’t want a handout but a hand-up. We have diligent trustees. We have a vision. We are restoring God’s house better than it was. God is still going to get the glory. He just took off the pieces that He wanted.”

Although things are going well and the insurance company has been very cooperative, it will take some time to do the reconstruction because it will have to be done in phases, she said.

The first thing that needs to be done, according to the pastor, is cleanup.

“Then the mason, the framer to frame the windows, the roof needs to be repaired, the walls need to be done and then the carpet replaced,” she said.

Dallas-Kirk said the church is trying to get three estimates for the work so the trustees can make a decision on how to proceed.

When asked how long the congregation might be displaced, she replied, “Our time is not like God’s time.”

She added that she would like it done in two weeks but, hopefully, no longer than by the end of this month.

She had nothing but praise for the support Bethel A.M.E. has received from other churches in the community.

“The churches have swarmed me,” she said.

Other churches’ parishioners have provided food for her and the workers at the church and have offered space for the congregation to meet until they can return to their sanctuary.

“They call and check up on me. They tell me if I need anything to let them know. God is at work. It’s so overwhelming,” Dallas-Kirk said.

Bethel has about seven faithful members and about 20 persons on the roll. In addition to the local congregation, Dallas-Kirk also pastors a church in Milton.