Imagine a church led by a pastor named Paul. Suppose the church burns — twice — only to rise anew from the ashes of arson.
Is it a resurrection?
“Yes, yes — definitely,” said the Rev. Pavel Sandu of Golgotha Baptist Church in Midland.
On Sunday, the reborn church at 1611 85th St. East will formally open its doors after two acts of arson and almost two years of rebuilding.
The first fire was in September 2013. A man with a history of mental illness, arrested near the scene, subsequently pleaded guilty to arson.
At a service after that fire, Sandu prayed for his parishioners to forgive the man.
A second fire in February 2014, also found to be deliberate, destroyed the remnants. The culprit was never identified, and the building was a total loss, with costs estimated at $1 million.
A year before the fire, the congregation had bought the building it had occupied since 2000 and paid $750,000.
The second of two fires, both found to be deliberate, destroyed the remnants of the church. The culprit was never identified, and the building was a total loss, with costs estimated at $1 million. A year before the fire, the congregation had bought the building it had occupied since 2000, and paid $750,000.
After the fire, parishioners held services at Calvary Baptist Church and Gloria Dei Lutheran Church, and began the slow process of reconstruction.
On Wednesday, Sandu, alone at the just-finished church, stood in the empty nave, surveying gleaming rows of new pews and the pulpit where he will preach. Insurance covered a big share of the rebuilding cost, but not all. He marveled at what so many volunteers and parishioners had accomplished.
A new kitchen and social hall will provide a place for weddings. Three fresh classrooms, tailored for different ages, will open. A chapel — a new feature — will allow quiet contemplation for the bereaved.
“Eight months,” he said. “We build a building in eight months.”
The building came after the planning, the permits and the design. The old church was a hodgepodge: originally four buildings, merged and remodeled over the years.
The new church is just that.
“Everything was new for us,” said Sandu, 42. “The rules, law, everything. We hired professional people, to do it the goodest way — the right way.”
Sandu was born in Moldova, once a Soviet republic bordering Romania. His father and grandfather were preachers. Sandu studied theology in Romania, where he met his wife, who studied law.
Many of the 300 Golgotha parishioners have roots in the two countries and speak three languages — but Sandu preaches in English, and pushes the congregation to embrace the adopted country. Older parishioners are sentimental about their roots, but many of their children and grandchildren are American-born.
The fires left parishioners bereft and grieving, including Sandu. The rooms for Sunday school classes were gone. The services —assistance for low-income parents, training for immigrants studying for citizenship tests — were gone. Everything was gone, burned.
The Rev. Pavel Sandu remembers an excavator knocking down the last wall of the old building. A small flurry of papers fluttered toward him like dry leaves. One charred sheet was a picture of his two sons.
Sandu remembers an excavator knocking down the last wall of the old building. A small flurry of papers fluttered toward him like dry leaves. One charred sheet was a picture of his two sons.
He recalls sitting down outside the wreckage, not knowing what would happen next, lost in his thoughts. A man Sandu didn’t know spoke to him.
“May I sit?” the man asked. Sandu nodded.
It was a pastor from a neighboring church, who said nothing at all, but sat next to Sandu for hours in silent solidarity, as he remembers it.
“I could feel him,” Sandu said.
Something strange happened after that, through two years of services held away from home. The Golgotha congregation didn’t shrink — it grew by 30 percent.
As rebuilding began, benefactors appeared. A contractor Sandu didn’t know brought granite countertops for the new kitchen, and refused to accept payment. The pews, a costly and essential part of reconstruction, were offered at low rates, with no markup for profit.
A Tacoma lawyer and music-lover, learning of the old church’s demise, donated six new accordions for the new classrooms. Every weekend for eight months, 80 men, all volunteers, showed up early to complete the rebuilding and finishing work.
“You can’t imagine all the paint,” Sandu said. “So much paint.”
You can’t imagine all the paint. So much paint.
The Rev. Pavel Sandu
The pastor took a job himself, working construction in Seattle as the project continued, he said. He didn’t want to rely on the church for his sole income when so many people were giving their time without compensation.
A month ago, on Dec. 23, while working in Seattle, Sandu got a message: The church had passed its final building inspection. He dropped his tools and told his co-workers he had to go, to see.
The next day was Christmas Eve. The building wasn’t quite finished, and the official opening was a month away, but the news had spread. The parishioners came, and lingered.
“Everybody enjoying, everybody’s happy,” Sandu said. “The kids — they can’t explain their joy. They just jump, they are just smiling.”
He’s looking forward to Sunday’s opening, and expects a crowd. The nave will hold 375 people.
The choirs will sing again; the church has three of them. The piano and the sound systems are ready.
Many will speak at the dedication ceremony, and others will sing, some in Romanian, an old song to bless the building.
Sandu will take his lead role at the new pulpit. He plans to rely on a few biblical verses from Second Chronicles: old King Solomon’s dedication of the temple in the promised land.
“I will adjust this prayer,” Sandu said, smiling. “I am trying to take this prayer to our situation. It’s six or seven verses that I will read, and every community will say, ‘Amen.’”