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Another fire buffets Iowa church

KEOKUK, Iowa (BP)–Bethany Baptist Church in Keokuk, Iowa, a congregation affiliated with the Baptist Convention of Iowa, was struck by fire Dec. 13, less than three months after most of the historic building was devastated by arson.

According to reports by the Associated Press and the Des Moines Register, the Keokuk Fire Department described the December blaze as suspicious and similar to the Sept. 19 arson that caused the collapse of the church’s education wing, devoured the pastor’s study and left the sanctuary badly damaged by smoke and water.

The oldest part of the structure was built in 1854. The sanctuary was constructed in 1907.

The fires at Bethany followed another blaze in the southeastern Iowa community. A fire last May at an American Baptist Convention congregation, First Baptist Church of Keokuk, was the work of arsonists according to local fire officials.

Ronnie McLain, Bethany’s pastor, told the AP that church members were set to vote Dec. 14 on demolishing the facility. He noted that the worst damage was inflicted last September.

Darrell Rodger, a member of Bethany, said Dec. 15 that church members will try to salvage some of the stained glass windows and pews from the historic sanctuary.

After the September fire, the congregation met in an unused school in nearby Ferris, Ill., a 20-minute drive from Keokuk. They returned to the community Dec. 17 when River Hills Nursing Home invited the congregation to meet in its chapel. Rodger said the nursing home also is supplying space for Sunday School classes and an office for McLain.

The arrangement provides an instant ministry for church members, Rodger said, noting that River Hills residents and staff were excited at the prospect of having Sunday morning and midweek church activities on the premesis.
Reported by Dannah Prather, partnership editions editor for the Western Recorder newsjournal, and Phyllis Hoth, a ministry associate with the Baptist Convention of Iowa.

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