Altoona Alliance: A Journey Through Fire

On May 6, 2007, the Altoona Alliance Church suffered a devastating fire that completely destroyed our building. Some in the community assumed that this was the end of the church; that the congregation would simply split up and go to other churches. But God has used the fire to refine us and focus us on what really matters. Here is the story of one church's journey through the refiner's fire.

On May 6, 2007, immediately after the morning service, a fire was discovered in the church building. This fire would quickly spread throughout the building and ultimately cause the roof to collapse. Nobody was hurt in the fire but the building was a total loss.

Fire crews from many of the surrounding communities joined in the effort to save the church. Many of them risked their lives entering the burning building in an attempt to save it. Finally, the roof began to collapse and they had to pull out. The church is grateful for their heroic efforts and is even more grateful that nobody was hurt fighting the fire.

The building was a total loss. The roof completely collapsed. Yet still in this, God showed He was in control. When the remains of the building were torn down, it was discovered that one of the main support beams had extensive termite damage and was in danger of collapse.

Some have likened the process of moving on after the fire to the grieving process after losing a loved one. There was grief. There was anger. There was acceptance. Probably most important of all, there was prayer.

In the first weeks after the fire, we met in the church parking lot for Wednesday and Sunday evening services. The ashes were still smoldering during our first Wednesday evening prayer service.

We rented schools for our Sunday morning services.

Now that we had an interim place to meet, the leadership turned its attention to picking a permanent location. This task involved a lot of prayer and patience. There were relatively few places within Altoona which offered the space we needed and were available. The 17th Street location where the previous building had stood was quickly ruled out. Since the original building was built there, new zoning regulations had been implemented. They required greater setbacks and imposed new restrictions, such as water retention ponds. These new regulations reduced the land area available. Before the fire, we were already running out of space. Rebuilding an equivalent building would have been difficult on that property and building larger would have been impossible. But God had a plan and we just needed to wait on Him.

Of course with a sudden and devastating loss, there were three immediate concerns that the leadership needed to address. Where do we meet right now? Where do we meet for an interim period? Where do we rebuild? As previously stated, the leadership managed to find temporary shelter by renting space in a couple of local schools. This was not a great interim solution as everything needed to be setup and torn down every week, there was a lack of classrooms for Sunday School (due to restrictions on what areas we could use), and the schools were not available on Wednesday nights. However, the outpouring from the community and offers of help were overwhelming. Among the offers was one from the First Presbyterian Church in Altoona. They had recently merged congregations with Broad Ave. Presbyterian Church and just so happened to have an empty church building that they offered to us to use until we could rebuild. We accepted their offer and moved into the building in July 2007.

So what to do with 70,000 sq. ft.? That is a lot of space! There are so many possibilities. Unfortunately, there wasn't enough money to finish the project but, as usual, God had a plan. God brought a businessman to town who was looking for 20,000 sq. ft.. The realtor he contacted happened to be the realtor we were working with. Since we had more space than we needed, we agreed to sell 20,000 sq. ft.. That still left us with 50,000 sq. ft. (An NFL regulation field, less end zones, is 48,000 sq. ft.).

Shortly after we purchased the property at 3220 Pleasant Valley Blvd, we started hearing from various ministries inquiring whether we had any "extra" space. These inquiries planted a seed that quickly grew into the concept of a Ministry Hub. We are hoping to have a facility where we have many ministries under the same roof, offering a variety of services. Currently, we have Pressley Ridge, Appalachian Intermediate Unit 8, Safe Harbor, and Precious Life using space in our building.