ATHENS — The former Athens campus of Grace Community Church Tyler, which was destroyed in a string of church arsons, will complete its rise from the ashes today.
It was known as Grace Community Church Athens when set afire in January 2010, the third church hit by arsonists in Henderson County who also struck in Smith and Van Zandt counties, striking about 10 churches.
The church arsons ceased with the arrests of Jason Robert Borque and Daniel George McAllister, who were later sent to prison.
Since then, Grace Community Church Athens formed Grace Bible Church and built a facility to replace its burned structure at 6400 S. Highway 19.
“The things we have seen happen (since the fire) are nothing short of miraculous … things we didn’t think, humanly speaking, would happen,” the Rev. Marvin Keown, pastor, said.
“A lot of people gave up on us and said a church that has gone through the kind of turmoil we have and the loss we have, it’s hard for them to rebuild and get re-established, not being in a denomination. But we’ve seen step by step God has provided everything we have needed and we believe He’s raised us up here for a purpose.”
Keown added, “We’re excited about our future. We have some good people who are ready to get going. We want to start making a difference for Christ in our community.”
But they were not out in the open for long. Quickly use of a warehouse used during the week by the Young Life Christian Ministry was offered by Jason Hoffman for a meeting place on Sundays.
The church leased it along with the Gould Building next door for the children’s ministry, Tate said.
About a year and a half later, the church learned of the possibility it could meet at Faith Church. “They offered us space, fully equipped with sound equipment and the perfect size. They would not allow us to pay, not even the electric bill,” Tate said.
In the meantime, Grace Community Church Tyler, which was still supporting the church, “called a congregational meeting and told us they would like to spin us off into an independent church,” Tate said, even though it continued its support for the next 12 months.
“By the end of that 12 months, we were our own separate entity still meeting at Faith Church,” Tate said.
The group obtained a 501c3 federal nonprofit organization, tax free designation and hired Keown as pastor to succeed a minister who had left.
Although the frame of the metal building that previously housed the church was left standing after the fire destroyed almost everything inside, it had to be torn down because it was structurally unsound, leaving only the covered driveway beams out front.
“We built on the 8,000-square-foot slab. We revised the way the rooms are oriented to better fit our ministry as we saw that it ought to be,” Keown said.
The new building is a steel structure with a stone front. It contains a sanctuary that will sit up to approximately 150 people, eight classrooms, two offices, a workroom, a fellowship room and kitchen area.
Builders were Victoria Sugrue, Johnny Ballow and Mike Sugrue.
Cost of the new church was $438,000. “Insurance paid some of our losses. We still had to raise money in a short time among the 50 members,” Tate said.
A playground, light fixtures for the parking lot and landscaping are planned later.