Members of Antioch Baptist Church have grown closer together each week in hope, as the process begins for building a new, larger facility after they lost their historic church building in a December 2016 fire.

 Members of Antioch Baptist Church have grown closer together each week in hope, as the process begins for building a new, larger facility after they lost their historic church building in a December 2016 fire.

Pastor Jack Emmite said congregation members have gathered each week at a different home for Bible study and prayer, followed by food and fellowship. He pointed out that the meetings grew after the fire, and 27 people visited at Jack and Melinda Emmite's home on Wednesday, Feb. 7. Young members of the congregation joined at the Seventh Day Adventist Church, where Sunday worship services are held.

Emmite said the meetings have reinforced the closeness of the congregation, who celebrated the ground breaking for the new church with a meal and ceremony on Oct. 30. Through every step of the process, feelings of sadness and loss are supplanted by excitement, hope and everyone sharing their faith together.

“It's really brought us together,” Emmite said. “It really is like a family.”

The children enjoy gathering each week at the Seventh Day Adventist Church building, and Emmite said the members of that congregation welcomed them from the beginning, offering a place for the congregation to worship each Sunday. Now that construction for the new building is moving ahead, Emmite said he and fellow church members are feeling excited about a structure that will feature about 20,000 square feet of space on two levels — roughly three times the size of the former building.

With more space, church members are eager to expand their community outreach efforts and share more ministries for people of all ages. Klingner and Associates designed the building and contractors for the project include Ingram Plumbing and Orf Construction. And progress is moving fast.

Depending on weather, crew members from Bleigh Construction could have the foundation completed by May. In June, a team of about 100 to 130 Baptist Builders will have the entire building framed within a week, and fellow volunteers will assist with finishing efforts. Weather and other constraints could alter the timeline, but Emmite said church members could be in their new building before Christmas. He pointed out that a sad event is being turned around into something even greater, as God's plan led to the chance to reach more people and expand the church's ministry.

“The Lord's going to take a disaster, and he's going to turn it around and use it to His glory,” he said. “We just want to be a part of what God's doing. We want to listen.”

During each week, the groups gathering to read Bible passages and pray together have remained much larger in attendance than they had before the fire. Dr. David Pelletier noted that previous meetings typically brought in four to six people.

“For over a year now, we have been having very good attendance at this meeting,” he said. “It's more than just attendance — you can tell the attitude of the people has changed drastically — they're more together in purpose, direction and planning — all that kind of thing has really made the difference for the whole congregation.” Pam Wilde felt the same way.

“After the fire, it just seemed like we just gathered,” she said. “It's been wonderful. You just feel the closeness of the people, and of course the Lord. We love to be together because of Him.”

To find out more about Antioch Baptist Church or the progress of construction work, visit the Facebook page at https://b-m.facebook.com/AntiochHannibal/.

Reach reporter Trevor McDonald at trevor.mcdonald@courierpost.com