MILTON — The members of Bethany United Methodist Church will be taking a forward-looking approach as restorations to the historic church building get underway in a few weeks.

Pastor Bill McNeal said insurance investigators are continuing to examine the scene of the Nov. 26 fire, which caused extensive damage to the 138-year-old building.

While the investigators halted their work over the holidays, McNeal said they will be sorting through the debris field this week.

“We have got everything removed (from the building) that we have been allowed to remove,” he said. “Where the debris field sits, we haven’t been able to remove the walls or ceilings.”

McNeal said insurance investigators are trying to determine if an outside entity will be responsible for paying for the damages or if the company itself will pay. Previously, he said investigators were trying to determine if there “is any liability from any manufacturer defect.”

James Nizinski, a Pennsylvania State Police fire marshal, listed the cause of the fire as undetermined.

Church members said lights in the building flashed off during a service held the Sunday prior to the fire.

McNeal said insurance adjusters have not yet provided a written damage estimate.

“The insurance adjuster we’ve been working with, eyeballing what damage we have, is figuring somewhere between $3 and $4 million,” McNeal said.

He said that figure includes damage to the church and its contents. According to McNeal, damage to the church’s organ is estimated between $500,000 and $700,000.

“It’s very old,” McNeal said, of the organ. “It was recently rebuilt in ‘72, because of the flood. It’s like a 1939 version of this organ, there’s only two or three in the country.”

He said the church’s grand, upright and electric pianos were all compromised in the fire as well.

McNeal expects the insurance company will complete its work at the end of January or early February. After that, a contractor will be hired to begin restoration work on the building. Renovations could take between 12 and 18 months to complete.

The Bethany United Methodist Church congregation will be meeting to discuss the scope of the restoration work.

“We are going to have a special meeting coming up to go in and get some ideas about what we want to rebuild,” McNeal said. “We want to honor the old and we want to prepare the church for the future.

“We need to look at our community now and how we can best serve the community of today and look at the community of tomorrow.”

Since the fire, the church has been holding worship services at 11 a.m. Sundays at West Milton United Methodist Church, 310 High St., West Milton. Sunday school begins at 10.

“The move up to the West Milton church has been a smooth one,” McNeal said. “We are not in a combined situation, we are having our own services.”

He said the number of congregants attending services remains consistent with the number prior to the fire.

“They are in good spirits,” McNeal said, of the congregation members. “It has been my feeling, my understanding, that this is going really well.”

He expressed thanks to the community at large for its support since the fire.

“Thank you for all of the help that we have received, all of the prayers, financial aid that has come in,” McNeal said. “A tremendous thank you to everyone.”

Donations to support the church should be earmarked for the fire fund and sent to Bethany United Methodist Church, 18 Center St., Milton PA 17847.

Staff writer Kevin Mertz can be reached at 570-742-9671 or email

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