Fruitland area church welcomes back congregation one year after devastating fire
By Laura Lennie, News Staff
Parishioners of Ebenezer Reformed Church are grateful to be back in their pews again.
The congregation gathered at the church on Highway 8 near Fruitland Road for its first service in a year last Sunday following a devastating fire last April.
“It’s emotional and healing to be home again,” Rev. David Vandervelde said. “We can get back to our regular schedule, to reaching out and to doing the things that we do. We had to bracket and take care of ourselves, we had to look a lot more inward to hold together and we’re ready to continue looking outward.”
A vacuum cleaner caught fire in the church’s custodial closet in the back corner of the building overnight on April 6. A custodian had used the vacuum late that night and after she left, it ignited.
The fire got extremely hot and burned the closet door. A ladder then fell against the door, opening it up and releasing smoke and heat into the back stairway, sanctuary and main floor.
“The fire got so hot that there’s a copper pipe above the closet that goes to some laundry tubs and it burst,” Vandervelde said. “The water from that bursted pipe put the fire out. We believe God saved the building by having that thing pop, otherwise the fire itself would have continued to spread, as opposed to just huge amounts of smoke and soot damage.”
The heat, smoke and soot damage was extensive to every part of the church.
Vandervelde said adding to the devastation was the fact that the blaze was the second fire in two months at the church.
The first blaze – a kitchen fire – happened on Feb. 16. It started in a garbage can and was deemed unsuspicious.
Vandervelde said at the time of the second blaze, initially, there were so many questions that were unanswered with regard to cause.
“Because there had been two fires so close together, we were really concerned about all the obvious kinds of questions,” he said. “The fire marshals did their investigations and they all came to the same conclusion that we had a misfortune with a vacuum. They were 100 per cent sure that was what happened, so that certainly helped to put our minds at ease.”
Vandervelde said, still, there were other questions that lingered.
“We all struggled with now what?,” he said. “We thought, ‘Is this the end for the church? What is this going to mean financially?’ We honestly didn’t know.”
Wesley United Church, located just up the street at the corner of Fruitland Road, invited Ebenezer Reformed Church to share its facility until the church was restored.
“We had full use of their facilities, whenever they weren’t using them, for a year. That has been one of the blessings we received from God through all this, was getting to know the people at Wesley better,” Vandervelde said. “We’ve really developed a friendship; we hardly knew each other before and now we’ve grown a deep bond. We are very appreciative of Wesley United.”
Vandervelde said the inside of Ebenezer Reformed was completely gutted to suds and rafters.
Everything was taken out from the interior of the building and cleaned.
“The fire caused no structural damage except to one staircase. The smoke damage was extensive,” Vandervelde said. “All the altar equipment and the pews were taken off site and they were completely stripped down and redone. They actually had to take a layer off of them to get the smell of soot out, so they sanded them all down and re-varnished them all.”
Vandervelde said the majority of the restoration was covered by insurance.
The total cost, including contents, the rental of Wesley United and other associated expenditures, was close to $750,000, he added.
“The insurance company has been very good. They covered everything that we were covered for in our policy and maybe even a little more,” Vandervelde said, adding both fires were combined into one claim. “As far as our contents go, we were a little bit underinsured, so we have had to take some of our own costs on that. We’ve also received a number of gifts from fellow churches – some in the area, some in our denomination – that have really helped.”
Vandervelde said the church also has replaced its windows and furnace.
“We’ve done a few little upgrades that wouldn’t have been covered by insurance, but we thought, ‘This is the time to do it,’” he said. “We paid out of the church fund for that.”
Last year marked 60 years of ministry in Stoney Creek for Ebenezer Reformed Church.
Vandervelde said because of the fire, the celebration had to be put on hold.
“Right now, we’re focusing on getting back into the church, healing and settling in. The last weekend of May, we are going to be having a grand opening and 60th anniversary celebration,” he said. “On May 31, we’re going to be hosting a barbecue and on June 1, we’re going to be holding a special service and everyone’s welcome to attend. We’re really looking forward to picking up right where we left off.”