ELLSWORTH, Maine — Members of the Church of Life and Praise on Sunday morning jumped to their feet, raised their arms heavenward and praised Jesus.
“My every stain is washed away. I am forgiven,” the congregation sang as one voice.
As they do every Sabbath, worshipers at the Pentecostal church made a joyful noise unto the Lord.
Their voices filled the cafeteria of the Gen. Bryant E. Moore School while children and their Sunday school teacher danced.
Their boisterous singing was nothing compared to the ruckus the congregation will make Sunday, Dec. 23, when they worship for the first time in their new church at 321 State St., more than four years after a fire destroyed their previous building.
“Since the fire, our church has come together and strengthened in ways it probably wouldn’t have otherwise,” Assistant to the Pastor Ray Stephens, 60, of Lamoine said. “As we enter our new church, the presence of God is stronger than ever and we will be able to reach out to others in ways we wouldn’t have been able to do otherwise. I’m excited.”
Excitement is not what Pastor James Heard, 71, of Lamoine felt the night of July 19, 2008, when he was called to the church, located on Route 1A next to Ellsworth High School, by local police because the burglar alarm had gone off.
“I got there and saw flames coming out of the church,” he said Sunday before the service began at the former school, now used as a community center. “Soon, it was an inferno. We lost everything.”
Firefighters from Ellsworth, Trenton and Lamoine were called in to extinguish the blaze, according to a previously published report.
Heard has been pastor of the church since its founding in 1968. The building destroyed in the fire was constructed from 1970 to 1971 under his leadership, he said. For about 3½ years, the Church of Life and Praise worshiped in the parish hall of St. Joseph Catholic Church in Ellsworth. A year ago, the congregation moved to the old Moore school now used as a day care and community center.
“We’ve felt like Jews wandering in the wilderness,” he said of the church not having a permanent space of its own. “But our enthusiasm has not waned. It has been a lot of work, but we are all excited about getting into the new building.”
Getting to the point when a date could be set to hold services in their own building, constructed on the same site where the burned-out church stood, has been a long journey, Tim Leathers, 34, of Ellsworth said Sunday. He serves as the construction manager for the new church.
“The first six months were taken up dealing with the insurance company,” he said. “Then, we spent more than a year looking at churches in the region and having an architect draw up plans of what we wanted. That was more money than we had, so we decided to go ahead with our youth center and use that as the church. We plan to build the rest of our church in phases.”
The cost of the entire project was estimated at between $1.7 and $2 million, Leathers said. The church felt it could only afford to spend $600,000, provided church members pitched in and completed some of the interior work, and decided to go forward with the youth center.
The new building is about 4,800 square feet, about the same size of the former church, without the attic that was used for storage, Leather said. It has a worship-fellowship area, kitchen, bathrooms, five classrooms, two offices and a conference-prayer room.
The next phases to be built, in order of construction, are the sanctuary, fellowship hall and an education wing, according to Heard. A goal for completion has not been set.
Ruth Dodge, 55, of Ellsworth has worshipped at the Church of Life and Praise for 30 years. She described the last 4½ years as “very challenging, but wonderful to see God moving in our lives.”
“To be able to just settle down and to know that that’s and to be home again,” is what Dodge said she is most looking forward to about being in the new church.
For information about the Church of Life and Praise, visit www.churchoflifeandpraise.com.