At the start of 2023, on the corner of D Avenue and 11th Street in Douglas, St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church served as a house of worship, open to everyone. Now, all that remains is a dirt lot, reminding the congregation and the community of the fire that destroyed the building, last May.

Father JJ Bernal, became vicar of the church in October after the previous vicar accepted another job in the Phoenix area. Bernal is helping the congregation move forward after arson destroyed the church.

One of the ways he is forging ahead, is by helping the congregation convert the parish hall into a sanctuary and create future plans for the church. The congregation moved into the hall earlier this month for their Sunday services providing a sense of “being at home.”

I saw and I feel the connection with people like resting and saying, ‘Ah, after all this time, Im home. After these moments, after these months, Im here.'” Bernal said.

Folding chairs, an altar and some pews are set up in the parish hall for the 16 members to use. Bernal said he is working with the congregation and the community on the future plans of the church, while making sure the parish hall is up to city codes so they can use the 99-year-old building safely.

We have the faith that this is not the end,” he said. “We have the faith. This is the end of one chapter.

Bernal said the next chapter is working with the community and the congregation. He wants to meet with the city officials to see how the church can be beneficial for both the community and the congregation.

Inside the parish hall are a few items from the church that survived the fire. Bernal said they will be saved and serve as a reminder of the future.

It was severely damaged but its here,” he said, pointing to the objects. “So well keep these items for future.

He believes the congregation and community can’t forget what happened. Instead, they will use the positive memories to help heal.

We were in the fire, but you know what? Were here. Were still here, Bernal said.

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