GATLINBURG, Tenn. (WATE) – The Gatlinburg Church of Christ received its final approval to open this week, nearly three years after the original building was destroyed.
Roger Comstock, minister for the church, said members actually started using the new building about two weeks prior, but on Thursday, they received the certificate of occupancy, which meant the church was officially ready to open.
The building on Trinity Lane was one of several that was destroyed by the wildfires in 2016.
Comstock said Thanksgiving Day will mark three years since the church went up in flames.
He wasn’t the minister at the church during the wildfires. He got the job three months after.
Comstock said plans to rebuild the church were already in place, but several changes had to be made over the three years of construction.
He said the wife of the architect who built the original church helped with some of the plans for the new building.
Comstock said it was a long three years, but it was worth the wait.
“To actually see it, it was just a real ‘wow.’ Really great,” Comstock said.
He said they couldn’t build the original ‘A-frame’ structure similar to the old building, but they tried to give it the same feel on the inside, with wood paneling on the ceiling.
Comstock said the new church is also a lot more safe than the original building.
They added more fire alarms, properly lit exit signs, security cameras and an elevator.
He said the bottom floor could probably be used as a bomb shelter, it’s so sturdy.
They did add some pieces to keep the memory of the old building, which was built in 1964, alive.
Comstock’s wife painted the original church in watercolor. It’s now framed and hanging on a wall before heading into the chapel.
Just below the painting, they framed pieces of the old stained-glass windows that were melted by the wildfires.
The new church has other additions, such as a built-in recording studio to help with radio and television broadcasts of services.
New lights and a production system were tacked on in the chapel, which is an addition Comstock is excited about.
While the church was under construction for three years, members gathered at a small building they were renting temporarily.
Comstock was in South America when members first used the new building, but some members said it was very special to be in their new home.
“The very first Sunday was like Christmas morning with chipper of the children. We were thrilled to death and we’ve all worked hard and we’re thrilled. We had good people to work with and it’s been wonderful,” Rita Barton, a church member of several years, said.
The church has only 35 regular members, but most services have at least 100 visitors in attendance.
Comstock said the church was rebuilt almost entirely from outside donations.
The church will have a special prayer service on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving in memory of the wildfires.
Comstock said they will also have a special dedication and reopening service on Dec. 8.