Congregation of fire-destroyed Lebanon church plans to rebuild

LEBANON, OH (FOX19) - Members of a historic church in Lebanon plan to rise from the ashes by restoring the building, which was damaged in a fire late last year.

Bethel A.M.E. Church has been deemed both a place of worship and a piece of history. The pastor said it was built in 1861.

"People whose hands built this structure had been held in slavery in the south," said Pastor Karen Schaeffer.

Tanya Young, an associate minister, says it was a vibrant part of the community in Lebanon for people of color in the 60s and 70s.

The community was devastated when an electrical fire damaged the church in December. The building, and what was inside it, was ruined.

"Antique fabrics, for example, that some of the women had hand-sewn," Schaeffer said.

Emotions are still high at times, thinking about what was lost.

"It's that hit in the gut all over again, reliving that morning all over again, with the flames and the smoke," Young said.

The doors to the church are currently locked because structural engineers have not deemed it safe to enter. Despite the destruction left behind by the blaze, the congregation has persevered by holding worship services at different facilities in the area, hosting Bible studies online, and keeping up their food donation program through a Blessing Box.

"Really being kind of nomads," Schaeffer said. "What we've experienced is an outreach from the community."

All the while, leaders of the church said they are thankful for the support that's been coming in through fundraisers and said they took the time to share their gratitude with first responders at a City Council meeting.

"If you're going through something, and it looks like it's devastating, and all hope may be lost, just keep moving," Young said.

A determination is now fueling their fire to restore and then reopen the building. The mission? Make it even better than it was.

"To see how a community comes together, you see the good in people, and that's very hopeful," Schaeffer said.

Schaeffer said it will likely be at least several months before they can really start the restoration process. There are ongoing fundraisers to help cover the cost of the fire damage.

For those who would like to donate, according to the church, there are three ways to do so:

  • Cash and check donations are being accepted at Sharefax Credit Union (next to Walmart in Lebanon) for the Bethel Fire Donation Fund.
    • Sharefax Credit Union, 1550 Genntown Dr., Lebanon, OH 45036  
    • Lobby Hours: Mon.-Thurs. 9:00am – 6:00pm, Friday 8:30am – 6:00pm, Saturday 9:00am – 12:30pm
      • For all locations and office hours, click or tap here
  • Donate online with credit or debit cards using PayPal
  • Mail checks made payable to BETHEL AME CHURCH, 111 N. Cherry St., Lebanon, OH 45036

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