Cedar Community Church celebrates return home

The fire at Cedar Community Church caused damage outside at the point of origin, a tree near the window, and inside. - Photo courtesy Dale and Mary Pratt
The fire at Cedar Community Church caused damage outside at the point of origin, a tree near the window, and inside.
— image credit: Photo courtesy Dale and Mary Pratt

A church, by definition, can be a congregation or a building for worship.

After a year of being displaced by a fire, members and leaders at Cedar Community Church have learned the definition is much broader than both.

The Rev. Dale Pratt, who has been leading the Buckley congregation since 1983, said he’s always preached a church is its people, not the building, but during the past year, he said it became clear the building is important as a gathering place for community, a sanctuary - a home.

“We know this isn’t what makes us, but it is very important,” he said. “There’s something dynamic about a sacred place.”

Its members are celebrating a homecoming.

It was July 12, 2008, when Pratt said the flames, set against the night sky coming from the historic building on the corner of Mason Avenue and Cedar Street in Buckley, caught the eye of a passing police officer. The quick response of the nearby fire department was the church’s saving grace. After an investigation, it was determined the fire was set by an arsonist who has since been charged with not just the church fire but a handful of others.

“We are back in it and we are grateful,” said Mary Pratt, the pastor’s wife. “Not everything is done, but we are grateful and thankful.”

They’re titling the July 12 open house “Out of the Ashes.” The celebration begins with a service from 10:40 a.m. to noon and continues with an open house and barbecue from 1 to 4 p.m.

The membership returned to the building on Mother’s Day, May 10, but with July 12, the anniversary of the fire, falling on a Sunday, it seemed an appropriate time to celebrate.

For the past 10 months, Cedar Community Church members have met in the White River School District’s annex auditorium, and when the weather was nice, in the church’s fellowship hall and courtyard, which did not suffer damage. They’ve also found Buckley’s Grace Lutheran Church’s membership to be giving, offering their building on Sunday afternoons.

“The community was wonderful in offering us their buildings,” Mary Pratt said. “Everyone’s been really supportive.”

It’s a small miracle the project is a remodel, not a rebuild, and for that, they say, they owe the Buckley Fire Department and those who helped them.

Originally built as a Methodist church around 1907 and bought by the Cedar Community Church congregation in the 1930s, the more than 100-year-old building presented many challenges when it started to burn.

Firefighters arrived promptly, but older structures burn differently, Buckley Fire Chief Alan Predmore said. His crew, he said, put all their training into action.

The Pratts said they were amazed.

“I didn’t even lose a book in my office,” Dale Pratt said of the care the firefighters took in battling the fire. He said they covered the baby grand piano, sound system and desks to protect them from damage. The fire department even sent flowers when the church reopened its doors in May. “They were absolutely wonderful to us.”

Predmore said any time his crew can save a building from the early 1900s with all its challenges, it’s special.

“It’s always nice to be able to save a structure, but when it’s one that means that much to a group of people and the community it’s a positive,” Predmore said.

Dale Pratt said the fire caused approximately $250,000 in damage and working with Mutual of Enumclaw insurance and Puyallup contractor Evergreen Restoration has been a blessing.

He said restoration involved a great deal of work, but also provided opportunities like replacing decades- old plaster and electrical, and also being able to preserve historic wainscoting.

“We made some changes, but not so much that it looks incredibly updated,” Dale said.

“We tried to keep the warm feeling of an old, historical building,” Mary said, but with an inviting, home-like feeling.

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