Matthew Albright / Houma Courier
During a Sunday worship service two years ago, pastor Craig Dalferes read a Bible verse to the congregation of St. Matthew's Church.
' 'Do you see all these things?' ' Jesus told his disciples as they looked at the magnificent temple in Jerusalem.
' 'Not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.'
Dalferes said it was a difficult verse to preach about on a normal Sunday. But that was no ordinary Sunday only a few days earlier, he had been standing in the ashes of the church's landmark, century-old sanctuary in downtown Houma.
This Sunday, Dalferes stood in the grassy field where those ashes had been and read a different verse.
'This shall be my resting-place forever,' said the Lord. 'Here I will dwell, for I delight in her.'
Two years to the day after their church burned to the ground, Dalferes and his congregation worshiped under a tent in the field where the church had stood.
Since the fire, the congregation has worshiped in the sanctuary of Grace Lutheran Church. But Sunday was special enough for them to return home.
For the past two years, St. Matthew's clergy and lay leaders have been laboring to raise money and make plans to rebuild the sanctuary, parish hall, offices and classrooms claimed by the fire.
Those efforts are starting to bear fruit through a combination of insurance money, fund raisers, donations from parishioners and community supporters, the church has about $5.3 million on hand for the project.
The church is still seeking donations. If you're interested, call 872-5057.
Blueprints have been drawn up, and negotiations with local contractors should be finished within the month.
'I've gone between a lot of waxing and waning between optimism and pessimism,' said Senior Warden Rob Alexander. 'But the people of this church always remind me to have hope.'
Church officials are so confident that construction will start soon that they broke ground Sunday, marking the two-year anniversary of the fire. Dalferes said he hopes construction will start before the year is out and said it's possible the church might move in by sometime next year.
To sanctify the space, the congregation processed around the staked outline where the sanctuary building will stand, and stood praying as officials marked off the site with a long white cross of rope.
'This is a symbol for us,' Dalferes said. 'We are saying that this is land that belongs to Christ, not to us.'
Roland Champagne, who is in his 90s, has been a member of the church since he was twelve. Though he and his wife have recently moved to Jennings, La., for medical treatments, he still drove down to Houma to see the ceremony.
'This is my church home,' Champagne said. 'Of course, I had to be here.'
Champagne knows almost everything about the church, from the names of the live oaks Abraham, Isaac, Jacob to the history of the old building.
He is sad, of course, that much of that building exists now only in his memory, but he does not despair.
'It is good for me to know that we are rebuilding. It is good that this space won't be empty anymore,' Champagne said. 'I hope I am alive to be here when we dedicate it.'
Dalferes said it's faith like that which has allowed the church to keep hope despite the destruction. He compared the church's faith to the high-stakes choreography of trapeze artists.
'Sometimes, the lifeline comes out of the thin blue sky at just the right time,' Dalferes said. 'And at moments like this. we see there is a design behind it all. It is called grace.'
Staff Writer Matthew Albright can be reached at 448-7635 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.