NORTON: Pastor Mike is optimistic about rebuilding his church destroyed Wednesday in a fire.
“It’s been an emotional roller coaster,” said Mike Guarnieri, pastor of the Father’s House church on Wadsworth Road in Norton. “We prayed together as we watched the fire destroy our church building.”
He said there was a service at 7 p.m. and the last few members of the congregation cleared the building by 9 p.m. Several went out to eat together and on their way back home they saw the fire.
“First, they called 911, then they called me. It started out as a small fire and we watched it grow before it could be put out completely,” he said.
Thirteen fire departments were called in to help.
“I’m told it took about 7,000 gallons of water to put it out. It was still smoldering when we left about 3:30 a.m. Thursday,” he said. “I didn’t know there weren’t any hydrants in the area.”
Guarnieri, who lives in Wadsworth, said the church purchased the Norton building three years ago.
He said he is working to keep morale up with the congregation, made up of 50 to 75 members.
“I told our members to take this awful thing and use it to bless us and we will be stronger as a congregation,” he said. “We lost everything, but somehow our storage building was saved.”
The outside structure was burned two-thirds of the way up, with only bricks standing. The roof caved in and the lower level is mostly under water. The annex to the building is still intact and is used for storage. Some siding and shingles closer to the church building melted.
The pastor said there was insurance on the church, but the building was underinsured.
“What we are hoping to do is to rebuild a simple structure on one floor, and not build it the way it was,” the pastor said. “We don’t want the Taj Mahal, just a concrete slab and a nice clean church on one floor. For us, the bigger nightmare is to go through all this and be in a different place for a year and then have to come back to the same building,” he said.
The sanctuary was upstairs and the bathrooms downstairs.
“Every service somebody’s going to need both,” he said. “It’s awful having the bathroom at a different level than the sanctuary. It had steps that made it hard for some of the older people who use walkers. It poses a lot of problems for anybody with any physical challenge at all.”
He will meet with his members at 6 p.m. Sunday at Grace Church on Cleveland-Massillon Road in the lower auditorium, through the south entrance, to decide the future. He is hoping to make arrangements with a church in Norton to maintain early morning Sunday services and Wednesday night services.
In the meantime, the church is accepting any donations.
“Just think of anything in your church you may have extra … anything — offering envelopes, paper, a computer, an offering basket, anything. Some of the bigger things we lost were musical instruments, a drum set, guitars, bass, keyboards, sound boards, recording equipment, sanctuary chairs, puppets, crayons … televisions and DVD players in our children’s classrooms, desks, office furniture and on and on,” the pastor said. “The only thing they pulled out was our safe, because it’s made to withstand a fire. But we are glad because it had our Wednesay night offering in it.
“Right now we don’t know how things are going to be financially, going forward.”
Donations may be sent to 1063 Raven Place, No. 103, Wadsworth, OH 44281. To arrange any drop-offs to the church annex, call Guarnieri at 330-608-7117.
Marilyn Miller can be reached at 330-996-3098 or firstname.lastname@example.org.