TACOMA — Like other Tacoma congregations, Christians at Eastside Baptist Church are celebrating Christmas morning. But besides their joy of the holiday, members of Eastside Baptist also are grateful to have their own church home again.
Twenty months ago, their building was reduced to ashes by a fire of suspicious origin. Since the blaze in April 2008, they worshipped in another church’s gym a mile away, vowing to rebuild.
On Christmas morning, the church hosted a community-wide service in their new 250-seat sanctuary.
“It feels good to be home,” LaQuita Moore told The News Tribune. “To be home on Jesus’ birthday is wonderful. That’s the icing on the cake.”
The new 10,000-square-foot building is about 20 percent larger than the one that burned. It has a kitchen, multipurpose room, three offices and six classrooms. Two classrooms were filled with clothing and toys before Christmas, part of the church’s outreach to the community.
“It’s an awesome Christmas gift,” said Karl Banks, 33, an associate minister and son of Eastside’s pastor, the Rev. Arthur Banks. “We couldn’t ask for anything more.”
A nearly 4-foot-tall wooden cross hangs on a wall in the new foyer. It’s the lone remnant from a wall of the old church and a symbol of inspiration for members.
“They thought it was a sign from God that the cross hadn’t burned and we needed to rebuild,” said Herbert Jones, 67, chairman of the church’s board of deacons.
The new church has an automatic sprinkler system and upgraded fire alarms now required by code.
For 20 months, the congregation gathered for Sunday worship in the gymnasium of nearby Bethlehem Baptist Church. They moved into the new church Dec. 6, and will dedicate it Sunday.
The new building cost about $1.6 million, Arthur Banks said. The church’s insurance paid about $1.3 million, including the required sprinkler and alarm system. Part of the money went to pay off $300,000 left on the mortgage for the old church, he said. The church raised money and took out a loan to cover the remaining costs.
The exact cause of the fire that began in the church attic in the early morning of April 21, 2008, remains a mystery. The church was a total loss, causing an estimated $925,000 damage.