Grand Ronde church rises from the ashes after fire in 2007

GRAND RONDE — Pastor David Crabb of the Grand Ronde Church of the Nazarene leaned back in an office chair, spread his arms wide and chuckled when thinking back to his one-year anniversary leading the West Valley congregation.

"I was called to this church in June 2006," Crabb said. "We had the fire in July 2007. That was my first anniversary. God can be so funny at times."

Crabb and his congregation dedicated their new church Saturday with a special service.

The structure replaces a 60-year-old church destroyed by arson almost three years. An adjoining annex was saved by firefighters, but has since been demolished.

Joey Tutorow of Willamina, then 15, and Larry Whitley of Grand Ronde, then 18, were convicted of firebombing the church and Willamina Middle School, which are located across Grand Ronde Road from each other. The school building only sustained minor damage.

The new church building constitutes Phase 1 of the overall construction project. This single-story structure encompasses about 5,700 square feet. It features a 150-seat sanctuary, kitchen, pastor's office, parking lot and set of adult and children's classrooms, along with state-of-the-art sprinkler and security systems.

Insurance covered about $900,000 of the total cost of the building, which the church is insuring for $1.25 million.

Crabb said Phase II will expand the church complex into an area to the south. He said it has been pre-designed to integrate seamlessly. There is no timetable for the expansion which will be dictated by the necessary funding.

The McKnight Group of Grove City, Ohio, designed the church. Bar Zn Inc. of Oregon City served as general contractor.

The McKnight Group specializes in the design and construction of multi-ministry structures. Bar Zn, which built the Lynchwood Church of God in Portland, was referred to the Grand Ronde church by the Oregon Pacific District of the Church of the Nazarene.

Crabb said it took time to work through drawings, approvals, permits, financing and construction, leading up to the dedication service.

"Construction began in April of 2009, and we were largely done with the building by mid-November," he said. "We had our first service on Thanksgiving weekend, and we've been fellowshipping in the building ever since."

Crabb calls it a "wonderful building" with a good multi-ministry space. He and the congregation are thrilled that it accommodates their needs so well.

However, the last three years have been trying, Crabb conceded.

"We went from a congregation of about 60 people before the fire to about 25 last August," Crabb said. "Our attendance really dwindled.

"People left for various reasons. People's lives change. It's been a challenging couple of years."

On the positive side, Crabb said the congregation is growing again. It hit 45 again in April.

"We're seeing new folks, new faces," he said. "It feels good to grow. The building is just an end to the means. It's a tool to help people find Christ It's a nice tool, but the growth is what excites me. That's what rings my bell."

Crabb spent 25 years in the area of corporate information technology before making a career change. He worked in the private and public sectors, wrapping up his career with Pacific Power.

To prepare for the ministry, he attended Warner Pacific University in Portland for a year, completed his bachelor's degree work at Portland State University, then took ministerial coursework, some of it online through Nazarene Bible College of Colorado Springs, Colo.

"This is my first church," Crabb said. "I've done a lot of maturing on my personal journey, and the church has been gracious enough to let me grow spiritually."

Cliff Roselle of Grand Ronde chaired the board of trustees during the construction process. He and his wife have been going to the church since the early 1980s.

"I'm really happy with the church," Roselle said. "It's been a long ordeal, but everything was in God's timing and everything fell into place. This is a multi-use building and I like the openness."

"We're not tied down to any one service or activity. We can have all kinds of activities. There is a lot of room to do things, to get people into the building and witness to them."

An estimator for a masonry contractor, Roselle said he worked with the contractor, kept Crabb and the trustees' board apprised of construction progress and monitored the building site as best he could.

Crabb has never felt vindictive toward Tutorow and Whitley.

They were charged with three counts each of conspiracy to commit first-degree arson, first-degree arson and first-degree criminal mischief. They pleaded guilty to one count each of first-degree arson, a Class A felony.

Tuturow's case was adjudicated in Polk County Juvenile Court, Whitley's in Polk County Circuit court.

Tutorow was remanded to the Oregon Youth Authority for an indeterminate period, not to exceed 10 years. Whitley was sentenced to 18 months in prison and three years on post-prison supervision.

In addition, the two were ordered to pay about $73,000 in restitution to the Church Mutual Insurance Co., Oregon Pacific District of the Church of the Nazarene and the Willamina School District.

"They made a tragic mistake, and it will be with them for the rest of their lives," Crabb said. "I still feel sad for them.

"My heart breaks for both of them. To this day, if there's anything I could do for them, I'm available — even if it's just to be a friend."

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Information from: News-Register, http:www.newsregister.com

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