CHESAPEAKE, Va. (WAVY) — Nearly a year after a historic Chesapeake church went up in flames, the congregation is getting ready to celebrate breaking ground on their new building.
Last August, Gabriel Chapel AME Zion Church off Long Ridge Road caught on fire after it was struck by lightning.
While many churches were trying to find ways how to hold services virtually, Pastor Sandi Hutchinson says they were just trying to find spaces to have a service when many locations like libraries weren’t open yet.
“It’s been tough,” she said. “It hasn’t been just about the building the physical church back. It’s about building the morale of the people both physically and spiritually, whose families have been there for generations. We have people at our church who are 100 years old whose parents and grandparents attended in 1866 or donated land for it to be built.”
The church is celebrating 155 years and Hutchinson says how the community rallied then to get the church started, the community now, especially a coalition of local Black pastors, has rallied to help them during their time of need.
“It was a devastating fire but we like to use that Bible verse ‘God will give you beauty for ashes,” she said.
Over the past year, the pastor says they’ve run into zoning issues with trying to rebuild on the land. They were finally approved in July because of their impact on the community.
That service to the community is what will also be highlighted at the groundbreaking event.
“We’re really excited. We wanted to make it a community event to show that even without a building, it’s important to continue to serve and to give back. You don’t need a building to do that. You just need willing hands,” Hutchinson said.
The event will include back-to-school giveaways as well as school supplies for kids, frozen treats, souvenirs, and information about vaccines.
The groundbreaking starts are 10:30 a.m. at 2216 Long Ridge Road and masks are required.
Hutchinson, who is the first female pastor of the church, says they hope to be in their building by this time next year. She’s grateful that her congregation has supported her throughout this ordeal.
“The people of the church have stood by me, supported me, lifted my arms. They themselves showed such resilience it made me more resilient and proud to be their pastor,” she said.
The church is also hosting a golf tournament fundraiser on September 25th at Bide-A-Wee Golf Course. For more information, click here.