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St. Peter's Baptist Church reopens doors after fire

By BY JENNIFER PREYSS - JLPREYSS@VICAD.COM
Sept. 25, 2011 at 4:25 a.m.
Updated Sept. 26, 2011 at 4:26 a.m.

Rose Johnson sings along with the choir at St. Peter's Missionary Baptist Church on Sunday.

History of St. Peter's

The first St. Peter's Church on South Laurent was remodeled in 1939.

A second St. Peter's church building was built on the same location and held a ribbon cutting in 1955.

An electrical malfunction set the second church building on fire in February 2009, burning it to disrepair.

The Rev. J.A. Meyers was the first pastor of St. Peter's, serving the congregation from 1910-1948.

The Rev. Pastor J.D. Moten served St. Peter's from 1950-1956.

The Rev. H.L. Alexander served from 1957-1963.

The Rev. J.S. Smith served from 1963-1980.

The Rev. J.W. Theus served from 1981-2007.

The new church building on South Laurent Street is about 11,000 square feet and seats about 350.

The Rev. Kevin VanHook had just been called to lead St. Peter's Missionary Baptist Church on Laurent Street when the building caught fire more than two years ago.

"I didn't know it had burned when I accepted" the job, VanHook said. "A deacon in the church said, 'I understand if you don't want to come.'"

But VanHook decided to pursue the post with or without a building, he said. And Sunday he and a congregation of more than 300 finally had an opportunity to worship together in their newly rebuilt church.

The 54-year-old former church building, at 2708 S. Laurent St., caught fire from an electrical malfunction on Feb. 10, 2009.

"The church body really stepped up and did their part and made sacrifices to help rebuild," VanHook said. "It's a fantastic building. We feel truly blessed."

Since the fire, St. Peter's nearly 101-year-old congregation has borrowed worship space at Our Saviour's Lutheran Church on North Ben Jordan Street.

"It's bittersweet seeing them leave," Our Saviour's Lutheran senior pastor, the Rev. John Waak said. "It's a beautiful building, and it's going to be a wonderful home for them and powerful tool for doing God's work."

Waak and many leaders of Our Saviour's Lutheran Church were present Sunday morning to congratulate the congregation members on their new 11,000-square-foot home.

"Every time I think about the compassion of the church, it fills my eyes with tears," VanHook told the audience. "I'm grateful for what God has done here and for Our Saviour's Lutheran."

Longtime St. Peter's member Maxine Jackson, who sang in the choir at St. Peter's inaugural service, said she was saddened when she learned a fire consumed the church building two years ago.

"We were devastated," Jackson said. "Someone from Our Saviour's Lutheran called the pastor within a couple of days of the fire and offered us their space. Praise God for that. We have not missed a Sunday worship service since the fire."

Earnestine Hill, a lifelong member and choir member of St. Peter's, said she, too, is grateful for Our Saviour's hospitality, but is glad to have a church home again.

"We'd almost made ourselves at home at Our Saviour's, but to be able to walk back to church again is wonderful," Hill said.

"There are so many things that can be said, but we're just so grateful to be here."

Hill said her husband's grandfather originally donated the property on South Laurent Street in the 1920s and a St. Peter's church building has been there ever since.

Waak was invited to deliver a guest sermon, and St. Peter's choir led a long musical service Sunday. VanHook also kicked off the reopening of the church with a baptism ceremony. A ribbon-cutting ceremony was at 3:15 p.m. with guest speakers the Rev. A.W.A. Mays, of Mount Sinai Baptist Church in Austin.

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