It's been a long, challenging road for New Bethany Missionary Baptist Church.
The congregation started to build a new sanctuary in 2006. But the facility was hit at least three times by thieves who stole an air-conditioning unit, copper tubing, landscaping material and other items.
Then, in December, a married couple broke into the church and stole wrapped Christmas presents for needy children. They also set a fire that blew out windows and damaged several parts of the church.
But Sunday the church will celebrate its 33rd anniversary and dedicate its new multipurpose building; the sanctuary was repaired and completed in May.
"We're a small church," said the Rev. Charles Evins. "We suffered over $100,000 just in theft. It added on to the cost of construction. Then there was the fire and losing a lot of things from the church over those 33 years. We're just looking forward and trying to be a vital force in this community."
The day will include a gathering at City Hall at noon, followed by a walk to the church about a mile away, a luncheon, a special service and the laying of the cornerstone. Evins said past members and pastors will attend. The Rev. Samuel Dawkins, senior pastor of Westside Baptist Church in Fontana, will be the guest speaker.
The church was organized in August 1977 and moved to its present site at 315 Sixth St. a year later. The Rev. Quintin Kenoly was the founding pastor and stayed until Dec. 31, 2001, when he retired. Evins took over in January 2002.
Evins said the gathering at City Hall is important.
"We're meeting there because there were several things that occurred during the permit process," he said. "We went to some boards, where I would take some of the young men and our church trustees with me. There were some comments made that the church would never be built.
"Because it's built now, I thought we should go back. With the help of the Lord and the members here, we were able to finish it. It wasn't the easiest process I've ever gone through. I can't say I have any regrets, because there was a need for it in our community. The younger people can see that even though you have setbacks, you can still move forward."
The church has lost about half of its members during the building projects, especially after the fire when the 100 regular Sunday attendees no longer could fit into one building, Evins said. He hopes the upcoming dedication service will spark a rebuilding process.
He said the congregation is active in the community, including giving Thanksgiving and Christmas baskets to needy families, helping with college scholarships and giving backpacks to neighborhood children. The church also has begun a Spanish-language worship service and Sunday school program, and the multipurpose facility will be the site for seminary and Bible classes.
The church holds Sunday school classes at 9:30 a.m., with its Sunday worship service at 11 a.m. For more information, call the church at 577-3436.
Bee staff writer Sue Nowicki can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2012.