Byron church rebuilds after fire

BYRON — Two years after a fire destroyed the church building, the congregation of the Allen Temple AME Church in Byron broke ground Wednesday on its new sanctuary and fellowship hall at the corner of Jones Road and Ga. 49.

For the Rev. Charlie A. Hicks II, pastor of the 153-year-old church, the groundbreaking demonstrates that, “God is able to elevate us to do a greater work.”

Hicks said it’s hard to express the excitement. He said his knees were shaking and his stomach was full of butterflies.

“It’s more rewarding than you can imagine,” Hicks said in a telephone interview. “It’s a spiritual high.”

For the last two years, the congregation has worshipped in several churches and the Byron Community Center.

“We are still a church, and we are still together,” said 55-year-old Phillip Shannon, a lifetime member and steward of the church. Shannon expressed appreciation for all of those who stepped up and showed love and concern for the congregation.

“It was a great blessing,” he said.

The $900,000 contract for the design and construction of the new 7,500-square-foot sanctuary and 5,000-square-foot fellowship hall was awarded to Scherer Construction of Middle GA LLC, said Stephen Keys, construction company owner.

The new church, which will seat about 200, is scheduled to open its doors in spring 2010, Keys said.

The new six-acre site also has adequate acreage for future expansion, Keys said. The church moved to a new location in order to have adequate parking, Shannon said.

Fire broke out at the former location at 207 Lowe Circle about 11:30 p.m. Nov. 17, 2007. The state fire marshal’s office ruled that the fire was accidental. Shannon said the cause was believed to be faulty wiring. Although the structure was destroyed, Byron and Peach County firefighters salvaged some of the contents of the sanctuary, including an antique organ and the Bible that rested on the pulpit.

In a 2007 interview with The Telegraph, Hicks said he was not surprised that the Bible, which was opened to Psalm 22 and Psalm 23, endured the fire.

Founded in 1856, Allen Temple AME Church’s first structure remained in use on the same Lowe Circle property for 121 years. When it could no longer be patched and fixed, Hicks said, the building was torn down and a new structure was erected in 1976 at the same site. An annex was added in 1994.

“We are as old as Peach County itself and the church has a great history,” Hicks said in the 2007 interview. “We’re one of the oldest churches in all of Middle Georgia.”

Information from The Telegraph’s archives was used in this report.

To contact writer Becky Purser, call 256-9559.