Wednesday, March 22, 2023

Ionia’s Zion United Methodist cleans up, rebuilds after fire

From the front, the dumpsters, warning signs and caution tape are the only visible indications there was a major structure fire at Zion United Methodist Church, 423 W. Washington St., Ionia, last month. — DN Photo | Tim McAllister

IONIA — The approximately 60-member congregation of Zion United Methodist Church are continuing to pick up the pieces after their 138-year-old church was extensively damaged in a fire.

Six fire departments responded to the blaze that started on the southeast side of the building at 423 W. Washington St. around 5:30 p.m. on Jan. 5, during the church’s weekly soup kitchen event.

For the time being, the congregation is holding weekly worship services in a space donated by the Log Cabin Inn Banquet Center at 6484 E. Bluewater Highway in Muir.

“It’s been crazy, but we keep seeing God’s hand of provision and him working for us, so it’s also been kind of awesome,” said Deb Hall, the church’s administrator, treasurer and the director of their food pantry. “God knew it was going to happen and he provided, because we’ve already got the people in place for leadership to do what needs to be done. It has given me a lot of comfort and confidence to know that it’s getting done by the right people.”

It’s been reported by some media outlets that the church’s historic sanctuary, originally built in 1885, was not damaged by the fire, but Hall said this is not accurate.

“Everything was damaged by smoke. Everything,” she said. There isn’t anything that wasn’t touched by smoke. There are some walls that they will clean, seal and repaint, and some ceramic floor tiles in the basement can be cleaned and sealed, but most of it it is going to be gutted to the studs, even the sanctuary. I know word is out there that the sanctuary really wasn’t touched, but it was touched by smoke and by steam. It was all touched in some way, so every surface has to have something done to it, and that is going to take a long time.”

In addition to structural damage, the church was filled with various items that will need to be replaced. For example, the contents of the food pantry and the children’s clothing closet, all the folding chairs, office supplies, pots and pans, dishes and even personal belongings were left behind in the panic to exit the burning building.

Smoke and siding damage are visible around a window on the east side of Zion United Methodist Church, 423 W. Washington St., Ionia. — DN Photo | Tim McAllister

“For a lot of things, it’s not so much they were burned up, it’s that they’re covered in soot and grease, so very few items were saved,” Hall said.

The church is working with Ameri Pro Restoration to coordinate the cleanup and repair, which could take one to two years to complete.

“Ameri Pro Restoration has a bunch of companies that they work with, so they are pretty much in charge of everything,” Hall said. “Ameri Pro is taking care of all the subcontractors that we need, so that’s been very, very helpful. We feel that Ron Brown (owner of Ameri Pro Restoration) cares about our church. We trust him, we believe he’s here for a reason and we have a great deal of confidence in him. We can see that he cares about our church, cares about our building and he wants to do what’s best for us, and that is just another blessing God has given us.”

The precise cause of the fire is still unknown and remains under investigation, but Hall said an electrical issue was most likely to blame. It’s also too early to even take a guess at the total cost of the restoration.

“It is going to cost a lot, but that has not been determined yet,” Hall said. “We know what our insurance policy is for, but we don’t know what the exact cost is going to be. There could be things over what our insurance policy covers, we just don’t know. That’s where donations and fundraisers or whatever might have to come in.”

Windows are boarded up on the west side of Zion United Methodist Church, 423 W. Washington St., Ionia. — DN Photo | Tim McAllister

Anyone interested in providing a financial donation can send a check or money order to Zion United Methodist Church, Box 317, Ionia, MI 48846.

To keep track of progress on the repair work or volunteer opportunities, Hall said the best bet would be to monitor their Facebook page.

“We had lots of volunteers from different places that came and helped us move items,” Hall said. “We put the word out on Facebook one day, ‘OK, tomorrow we’re going to be doing this, we could use some volunteers,’ and people showed up. We had 10 or so volunteers from Saint Peter and Paul (and) the Knights of Columbus, and then we had maybe six or eight from someplace else another day. Just lots of different people.”

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