MOUNT PLEASANT — Three months after an early morning fire ripped through much of St. Andrews Church, rebuilding is set to start.
Church leaders, members and others will gather Wednesday evening for a special groundbreaking and dedication service.
The Rev. Steve Wood said St. Andrews has invited many other people who have helped in all sorts of ways, like fighting the flames, opening their homes and meeting spaces, and offering prayers and moral support.
"The response of the larger Charleston community has been overwhelming, very humbling and has produced a depth of gratitude in us," he said Tuesday.
A fire broke out around 4 a.m. April 22 and wiped out the church's Ministry Center and children's classrooms. It heavily damaged offices and meeting rooms. The blaze was caused by an electrical problem, not foul play, investigators determined. No one was hurt.
In May, the church held an outdoor memorial service for its charred building.
"We thought it would be good to have one final service at the old Ministry Center," he said, noting the site looked back in thanksgiving for all the weddings, baptisms and other milestones of faith that took place within its walls.
Wednesday's service will take place in the same parking lot, but it looks ahead with anticipation of the center's rebirth once construction is done, which Wood said will be sometime around 2020.
St. Andrews needed about three months to clear debris and settle on details of a project that not only would rebuild the damaged areas but also incorporate the Imagine 2040 expansion, which already was in late in the planning stage before the fire struck.
Wood said the demolition was painstaking and had to be done mostly by hand so it wouldn't damage the center's floor structure, which was salvageable.
Some other sacred parts of the Ministry Center also were saved, including its large white cross, its communion table and baptismal font. Other details, such as the alter rail and steps, will be rebuilt from wood either salvaged from the center or milled from nearby water oaks that had to be cut down, he said.
Before the fire, the church announced it had secured about $7.5 million in cash and pledges for its expansion, and Wood said insurance proceeds will help cover the rebuilding work, which still is awaiting a final price tag.
The new project will include new children's space and day school space, as well as more office and meeting room.
The most historic part of the church, its 1857 chapel designed by prolific Charleston architect E.B. White, survived with little damage. It has been used for services but can hold only about 250 people, far fewer than the church's 2,000 members who could gather inside the ministry center, which was built in 1996.
The congregation has been worshiping temporarily at Mount Pleasant Academy, as well as inside the smaller chapel.
Wood said the service will give the congregation, now split between those two locations, to come together as one. It will begin at 6:45 p.m., and Venning Street will be closed temporarily starting at 6 p.m. until the service ends around 8 p.m.
About 700 people attended the outdoor service in May, more than the church expected.
Wood said the church doubled the number of food trucks on hand. "I have no idea what to expect," he said. "It is the height of summer."
Hill Construction, which is doing the work, is expected to begin pouring concrete next month, and the steel frame should rise up in the fall.
As construction proceeds, Woods said St. Andrews will focus on identifying and developing leaders within its ranks "so when we come back into the new building, we will have raised up a whole new leadership team across the parish."