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The rural church is recovering after a devastating fire. Building permits could be issued as soon as next year.

COURTESY PHOTO: HILLSIDE BIBLE CHURCH - After losing its sanctuary and hall in a June fire, Hillside Bible Church successfully applied to the county for permission to rebuild. A site plan and building permits have yet to be approved, although that could happen as soon as the first half of 2019.Nearly six months after its main buildings were destroyed by an electrical fire in June, the Hillside Bible Church won approval from a Washington County planner to move forward with plans to rebuild.

Hillside Bible, located at 49860 N.W. Clapshaw Hill Road northwest of Forest Grove, dates back to 1884, according to head pastor Tim Goold. It is located in an area considered by Washington County to be a rural reserve, and the church is considered a legal nonconforming use of the land — but new construction requires approval from the county.

Importantly, the Nov. 29 decision by principal planner Tom Harry is not an all-clear for construction to begin. The county still requires building and grading permits to be obtained, and it will require a detailed site plan that outlines the exact scope of work and the footprint of the building.

"All we have been approved for is land use so far," Goold said. "We have not designed our building. We have some ideas."

The decision conditionally approves the property to be used for an initial church building of up to 60 feet by 70 feet, a possible addition of 60 feet by 20 feet, and a possible gymnasium and activity center up to 60 feet by 100 feet.

Those latter two construction projects aren't ones that Goold said he expects to see anytime soon, and possibly not even within his lifetime. But with the church able to ask for approval from the county to rebuild as it sees fit, it made sense to obtain permission to build them at some point in the future if there is ever the demand to do so, Goold explained.

"Right now, we are just doing phase one, which is all we really expect to do right now," he said.

The details of the new church building have yet to be determined, Goold said. He thinks the building will likely take advantage of the 60 feet-by-70 feet maximum allowable footprint, but that hasn't been decided, either.

"We haven't necessarily decided that we're going that big," Goold said. "We think we will, but that's not a final decision until we see what the architect puts together for us."

Hillside Bible officials plan to meet with the project architect next month, according to Goold. If all goes well, they hope to have plans submitted and permits granted in time to begin construction during the summer.

One thing that the new building won't include is the vintage church bell recovered from the old church. The building was completed in 1900 and stood for more than a century before burning to the ground June 9. While the bell was found in the ruins and moved to a safe place, according to the church, Goold said it is just too badly damaged to be hung up again.

"It was cracked in the fire," Goold said. "It has two major cracks in it. It will never be able to be used."

Fortunately, the church has another 19th-century bell in its possession that Goold said will likely be put up in the new building. The bell dates back to 1864, he said, and was used at Hillside School.

The Hillside School building is one of the oldest standing schoolhouses in Washington County, and it's maintained by Hillside Bible Church, which actually got its start meeting in the school building before the old church was completed, Goold said.

The schoolhouse and the parsonage, where Goold and his wife, Bonnie, live, were the only buildings on the church property to survive the June 9 fire. Congregants have been meeting in a temporary building since September.

Goold is grateful to both the local community and an extended network of churches across the country for pitching in after the fire.

"It's been wonderful," he said. "The community has been amazing."

Many of the contributions from fellow churches have come from those affiliated with Village Missions, a Dallas-based nonprofit group that supports rural churches throughout the United States and Canada. Hillside Bible is one of those affiliated churches. But Goold said even some churches outside that network have made charitable contributions to help Hillside Bible get back on its feet.

"We've received quite a few gifts," said Goold, who is thankful for the support.

COURTESY MAP: WASHINGTON COUNTY DEPARTMENT OF LAND USE & TRANSPORTATION - A site map shows where proposed buildings at Hillside Bible Church could go. Currently, Hillside Bible is only planning for the construction of the first phase, the church building itself, said Pastor Tim Goold.

Editor's note: A previous version of this story misstated where Village Missions is headquartered. The organization is based in Dallas, Ore. The story has been updated.

By Mark Miller
Editor, Forest Grove News-Times
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