Congregation's 'tenacity' sparks rebuilding of Oakmont church more than 2 years after fire
A church destroyed by fire in Oakmont in 2014 will be resurrected at its old site beginning this month.
The site at 435 Second St. still has a St. Paul Baptist Church sign fronting where grass has grown over where the church used to be and soon will be again.
“We're excited about it,” said interim pastor the Rev. Reid Greene. “It's been a long time coming, a long journey. Every day brings us closer to it.”
The congregation tapped Virginia-based Church Development Services for the project. Project Superintendent Jeff Ritterspach said construction is estimated to take 11 months, but could take longer.
“Mother nature, you can't control her,” Ritterspach said.
According to the “African-American Historic Sites Survey of Allegheny County,” the old church was built in 1874 by an Episcopal congregation.
The book states the St. Paul's congregation, Oakmont's first black church, formed in 1905 and bought the wood frame structure in 1924.
A month prior to the fire, its former longtime pastor, the Rev. Morgan James Reynolds, died at the age of 93. He had served as pastor at St. Paul Baptist for more than 40 years, from 1966 to 2009.
Greene said the late pastor would be proud to see the church rebuilt after the fire.
“I believe he'd look down with pride and joy that we showed a tenacity about ourselves,” Greene said. “We weren't going to let things like this stop us. He would always say, ‘When the church works together, then there's power in that.'”
Ralph Livsey III, rebuilding committee chairman, said they lost at least 30 parishioners as a result of not having a church building since the fire on Sept. 19, 2014. The congregation of about 100 has been having services and Bible study at the Riverview Community Action Center since shortly after losing their church. The new building will be slightly larger than the historic one it is replacing. Plans show the church will be 98 feet by 48 feet, with a 29-foot steeple and seating for 136.
“I think it's going to be a very nice building,” Ritterspach said. “It's going to fit in nice with the community.”
Livsey said the contractor was selected in early February 2015 to manage the reconstruction after meeting with various architects and companies.
“The fact that they could handle the entire project from design to construction, that was appealing to us, as opposed to having to try to control those aspects of the project individually,” he said.
Project Manager Eric Payer said construction is estimated to cost $1.6 million. It is being paid for through the church's insurance, Travelers Insurance, as well as numerous donations, Greene said.
There was a groundbreaking ceremony in December for what was expected to be the start of construction, but permitting issues with the borough delayed the work.
“We had a couple loose ends that we needed to get corrected to get all the approvals that we needed,” Greene said.
Michael DiVittorio is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 412-871-2367 or email@example.com.