Arson-charred East Portland church reopens

Take a look at this joyful event, as an outer East Portland church again throws open their doors to the community …

With stormy weather outside, the newly-restored Eastside Free Methodist Church, in the Hazelwood neighborhood, is cozy and warm inside, where they host a community luncheon.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton

It was, to say the least, a “big disappointment”, when an arsonist set the then-newly-remodeled church afire in February, but Eastside Free Methodist Church Pastor John Unger now says, “Today, I feel like we’ve gone through something difficult, but it has led to good things in people’s lives.”

He, the church’s board, and its members, gathered on November 11 for a rededication luncheon to which the entire community was invited.

That fire, reported at 1:46 a.m. back on February 21, disrupted the congregation’s plans for Easter Day services.

> CLICK HERE to read about the fire, and the unique Easter Service that followed.

Assistant Pastor Carolyn McCulloch spends a moment with Pastor John Unger.

“During the blaze, the fire department came and poured thousands of gallons of water into the fire, and cut holes in the roof to reach the fire in the attic. That water collapsed the ceiling,” Unger recalled. “The building was filled with soot and dirt and water damage – but I was confident that, out of the ashes, we would rise again.”

Over the intervening months, their own church members, and attendees of an Hispanic church who met there, as well as large Narcotics Anonymous and Alcohol Anonymous meeting groups, had to find new places to gather.

After the fire, this now-restored main room was filled with soot and water damage.

After holding their Easter services in a tent, the some 60 regular church members met in a church nearby, on SE 162nd Avenue. “The Lynnwood Friends Church opened space to us, which turned into a great relationship, and we had a really good experience working with them,” Unger told East Portland News.

“Our insurance policy paid to restore the building and content,” Unger observed. “And, we added a couple improvements; when you have to pull off the sheet rock, you might as well fix some of the wiring and plumbing in the walls.”

Portland Police Bureau East Precinct Sgt. Wolf was one of the many Bureau’s people who joined with neighbors at the luncheon.

“We’ve had lots of our members and supporters hanging in here, with faith and hope. There have been so many good people along the way who helped us and encouraged us,” the pastor said.

Having the building restored, Unger said, will help fulfill the mission of the church. “We are a Christian Protestant church in the Wesleyan and Holiness Tradition.

“Our mission is really to bring the Gospel of Jesus Christ in a way as to offer a transformative experience with faith, feeling, forgiveness of sin, and a way to live life with,” explained Unger. “This gives you the freedom and empowerment to live a different life than you may have lived in the past.”

Robin Plumbley, who’s been involved with the church for twelve years, hugs Kathy Rankin, a friend from the Emmaus Community. “I have several good friends here, and want to be here to support them today,” Rankin says.

Looking around the main room, where people were dining, Unger told us he found it difficult to put his feelings into words.

“Seeing the people at all here, having a good time, I feel great – in fact, I feel fantastic. It’s not that there haven’t been some rewarding times along the way, but this is the ‘finish line’ of accomplishing what we’ve been working toward for several months now.

“To see everyone come together – we have a pretty diverse group that worships and meets here – is wonderful,” Unger added with a grin. “You don’t often see Narcotics Anonymous members greeting members of the Portland Police Bureau together at an event! – but it happens at this church. It’s great to be able to see the community come together.”

Preparing to cut a celebratory cake is member Lori Rich.

The Eastside Free Methodist Church is located at 650 SE 139th Avenue, 97266. To see their website, CLICK HERE.

© 2016 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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