Laws Mennonite Church sees opportunity in arson repairs

 Trustee and church treasurer Dale Jones holds a model of what the church looked like before the fire. Among changes to the church, there is no longer a balcony. Instead, classrooms and a room for younger children have been built upstairs. The Chronicle/Jennifer Antonik

Trustee and church treasurer Dale Jones holds a model of what the church looked like before the fire. Among changes to the church, there is no longer a balcony. Instead, classrooms and a room for younger children have been built upstairs. The Chronicle/Jennifer Antonik

FELTON — Members of Laws Mennonite Church didn’t let the fiery choices of others get them down.

In fact, they used it as an opportunity.

The church on Carpenters Bridge Road in Felton was heavily damaged in an arson on Dec. 2, 2014 and members were displaced for one year and four days.

“We used this as a good time to bring stuff up to code and change some of the things we wanted to change anyway,” church trustee and treasurer Dale Jones said. “It took us by surprise, no doubt. We were sad. But we made the best of it.”

Laws Mennonite Church members attended services in Greenwood while repairs and upgrades were being done to their own church building over the past year.

Much of the inside of the church looks brand new. The basement, despite accumulating the least amount of damage, still looks worse for the wear.

 One of the upstairs additions includes a room set up for younger children and their mothers to help accommodate a growing congregation. The Chronicle/Jennifer Antonik

One of the upstairs additions includes a room set up for younger children and their mothers to help accommodate a growing congregation. The Chronicle/Jennifer Antonik

“This is where the cleaning company put all the stuff and supplies. And it sat unused for more than a year. So the mildew built up. We did get new ceiling tiles, though, because of the water damage,” Mr. Jones said.

While working on the inside of the building, some of the classrooms on both the first and second floors of the building were enlarged to accommodate a growing congregation.

Explaining, Mr. Jones said, “We wanted to give the ladies more space. So where there may have been two very small classrooms, there might now be one.”

The second floor also used to have a balcony which one could use to peer into the sanctuary from above, however, the church decided to remove the balcony and just wall off the second floor.

“It’s quieter in church now,” he joked.

 Members of Laws Mennonite Church now have a coffee bar to call their own thanks to upgrades and renovations following an arson in the building back in December of 2014. The Chronicle/Jennifer Antonik

Members of Laws Mennonite Church now have a coffee bar to call their own thanks to upgrades and renovations following an arson in the building back in December of 2014. The Chronicle/Jennifer Antonik

The fire was set in a back corner of the sanctuary which went all the way up through the attic, according to Mr. Jones. Luckily, it didn’t damage the trusses or much of the outwardly frame of the building. He said the inside, however, was “pretty much gutted.”

Between insurance, savings and donations, the church made out well financially and only had to take out a small loan to make all of the wanted and necessary repairs.

One upgrade seems to stand above the rest for church members: a coffee bar. Mr. Jones said the addition helps church members feel able and willing to socialize before the service begins.

The “opportunity” also afforded the church a chance to get built-in, ductless air units, whereas before, they only had heat in the building.

Mr. Jones said, “We thought, well, this is as great an opportunity as any. It was kind of sad to go through, but we learned bad things happen. It’s how you deal with it is what brings the best out in people.”

 The inside of Laws Mennonite Church in Felton now looks clean and new, a sight that took church members more than a year to see again following the arson. The Chronicle/Jennifer Antonik

The inside of Laws Mennonite Church in Felton now looks clean and new, a sight that took church members more than a year to see again following the arson. The Chronicle/Jennifer Antonik

Felton resident Joseph T. Skochelak and Harrington resident Alex J. Harrington Jr. were arrested on Dec. 8 for setting the fire at Laws Mennonite Church and at two other Felton churches — Healing Hands Christian Church on Berrytown Road, and Manship Chapel on Burnite Mill Road.

The pair were also allegedly responsible for a burglary at St. James Union AME Church on Andrews Lake Road.

They pleaded guilty on April 23, 2015 to three counts each of second- degree arson, third- degree burglary and second- degree conspiracy.

Jennifer Antonik can be reached at mc@newszap.com

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