Its building torched in an arson case, small-town Oregon congregation is ready to rebuild



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ARLINGTON, Oregon — The members of a small-town church along the Columbia River that burned to the ground last year in a case of arson say they're getting ready to rebuild.

The arsonist remains at large, and there's still fear in Arlington, a Gilliam County community of 600 people that has reactivated the siren atop the water tower.

Before pagers, it summoned the volunteer firefighters. Now it's to alert residents to be on the lookout for suspicious activity.

The Arlington Church of the Nazarene was hit twice by arson in 2013, the East Oregonian (http://bit.ly/1A5KNAe) reported.

The first fire caused extensive smoke and water damage in the little white building with stained-glass windows — but nothing that couldn't be repaired.

The second fire left the 1899 building a burned-out shell.

"I wanted to cry," said 86-year-old Phyllis Sumner, like many, a lifelong member. "I was married there in the church. I baptized my children in the church."

Sunday services were moved to the church's youth center behind the original building. Members transformed the upstairs gymnasium into a makeshift sanctuary. Padded chairs on either side of the room worked for pews.

Then in January, someone vandalized the youth center by throwing a piece of cinder block through the glass double doors and scratched the phrase "Catch me if you can" onto a truck in the parking lot.

"There was a period of time where we wondered if we had a target on our back," said Mike Keown, a member of the board of directors.

Now hanging in the youth center are conceptual drawings of a new church building. It's to be constructed with the help of the proceeds from the insurance on the old building and is expected to cost $800,000.

The church held a ceremonial groundbreaking service Nov. 23. With any luck, said the Rev. David Gossett, construction could begin in the spring.

The building will have a larger sanctuary, but smaller classrooms and no kitchen. It will also serve as a much-needed space for local performing arts, with enough seating for small concerts and plays.

"We want the building to be used by more than just us," Gossett said. "We want something the community can use."

Gilliam County Sheriff Gary Bettencourt said he believes that the culprit in the arson case is no longer in the community.

The Oregon State Police has taken over the investigation and a $25,000 reward remains in place for information leading to an arrest and conviction.


Information from: East Oregonian, http://www.eastoregonian.info

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