The first time someone set the Payson Living Word Church on fire, it destroyed half of the building. The second time someone set the church on fire, it burned to the ground, leaving little behind but a pile of dust.
Even after two fires and three burglaries, church founder and pastor Clifton Richey said he and his wife are more determined than ever to rebuild.
“Like a Phoenix from the ashes, we will rise again,” Linda Richey said.
The Richeys opened the non-denominational church in Star Valley in 2006 after moving it from Payson, where it was founded in 2003.
When Richey purchased the three-acre plat in the 90 block of Cornerstone Way behind Tree Pro, it had three existing buildings and two storage units that he began fixing up.
One building was turned into a children’s church, another into a youth building and the biggest structure into a sanctuary.
Shortly after relocating to Star Valley, Richey said little things began to disappear, like tools from the yard. Then on June 15, reportedly someone broke in and set a fire in a back hallway of the church. The bottom floor of the church was badly damaged, while the upper floor only sustained smoke damage.
Because of damage from the fire and asbestos materials in the church, the building was gutted down to the studs. Richey removed everything that was not damaged, including computers and office furniture to the youth building, and boarded it up.
Although the sanctuary was empty, Richey said they had not abandoned the project and were waiting on their insurance company to begin reconstruction.
Shortly after workers finished gutting the church, several buildings including the storage units were burglarized on Sept. 2.
Yard tools and computers were stolen and damage was done to doors and windows. Richey reported the incident to police, and boarded up the broken windows and doors.
A month later, on Oct. 8, the doors on the storage units were busted open again and more yard tools and miscellaneous items were stolen.
A 30-foot-long half-pipe in the yard used for skateboarding was sprayed with graffiti, and beer bottles were strewn everywhere.
Again, Richey called police and cleaned up the damage.
Four days later, the 400-pound half-pipe was stolen from the yard, the doors to the youth building were removed and trash was scattered throughout the sanctuary.
“It was increasingly getting worse,” Linda said.
Richey decided it was too risky to leave anything of value on the property, and removed the remaining office equipment and computers to an off-site storage unit.
After removing everything, Richey said he didn’t have time to board up the damages again because he had to leave for an elk hunt.
Several days into the hunt, Richey got a call that the sanctuary had burned to the ground.
Along with the first fire, fire officials are treating the Oct. 18 blaze as arson.
Although the Richeys do not know why someone would target the church because they have no known enemies, they are resolved to rebuild.
“There is a need out there,” for the church, Linda said.
Linda said before the first fire they planned to pour concrete for a skate park. They still plan to create the park so teenagers have a place to hang out.
While they work with their insurance company to begin construction, Richey is holding services every Sunday at Payson Elementary School. The first service starts at 9 a.m. with contemporary services at 10:30 a.m. and 6 p.m.