Community Unites to Renovate Local Christian Education Center

Jun 14, 2003 09:16 AM EDT

LOUISVILLE – The members of the West Side Presbyterian Church celebrated as their beloved house of worship was brought back to life, June 1. The 45-year old structure was left vacant after it sustained heavy smoke and water damage on January 2002. Since then, the Ridgewood NJ community united in an unprecedented effort to restore and support the 90-year old congregation.

A nearby Catholic girls school, West Side’s nursery school and staff offices were offered as temporary places of worship for the1,500 member church. And neighboring churches and synagogues volunteered their spaces for West Side to continue their programs without interruptions; activities were held in more than a dozen sites in four towns.

Prayers, offers of assistance and contributions to a rebuilding fund poured in from around the country, by telephone, mail and mail, and through the church's Web site.

Presbyterian Disaster Assistance (PDA) sent $10,000 from the One Great Hour of Sharing offering to West Side just after the fire, which attracted local and national media attention. Since then, total contributions have grown to $160,000.

The Rev. Mike Pulsifer, West Side's pastor, said the congregation "continues to be profoundly grateful for the hospitality, support, and prayers of our neighboring churches and other groups."

Last year's fire, sparked by an electrical malfunction, caused damage estimated at more than $10 million.

Refurbishing the Christian Education building, at a cost of $2.5 million, was covered entirely by insurance. Work included new wiring throughout the building, a new roof and reconfiguration of offices, new central heating and cooling systems, new carpet and tile in the hallways, anda fresh coat of paint on the interior.

After the Center was restored, about 400 community and church members toured the building as part of an open house and dedication ceremony.

"It's been a very good homecoming," said elder Emily P. Aumiller, West Side's communications chair for the rebuilding effort. "I had a very good feeling about the Spirit moving through the building (during the open house)."

"All the teachers and children were so excited about coming into their new classrooms, with bright windows and a playground outside," Aumiller said.

In addition, other key steps toward rebuilding have come about since last year's fire.

Proposed plans for rebuilding the congregation's gutted 82-year-old, Gothic-style stone sanctuary were filed in March with the Zoning Board of the Village of Ridgewood, which is expected to take at least four months to review. Negotiations continue on an insurance settlement.

"It's a big lump of clay," said Hanft of rebuilding plans. "Slowly but surely we are beginning to shape it."

By Pauline J.