Tomorrow, the Rev. Robert V. Shipman will preach the familiar, joyous story of resurrection and rebirth to the faithful of Prince of Peace Baptist Church.

Rising again is something the 150-member Strawberry Mansion congregation knows a thing or two about.

Last spring, the church's longtime home, a massive Classic Revival building that used to house the former William S. Stokley School, was consumed by fire.

For months, the congregation has been worshipping in a rented trailer that was placed on an empty lot at 31st Street and Montgomery Avenue. The location is a few blocks away from its former mighty fortress, a structure once listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

By June, the church members will break ground on a new building for their house of worship.

"God has shaken us," said Shipman, Prince of Peace's pastor for the past 18 years. "We have a greater awareness of our purpose. We will see what the Lord opens up for us."

Shipman envisions more neighborhood outreach - more work with struggling families, more direct assistance in neighborhood schools.

Mary Beale, 69, who lives down the street from the old church at 32d and Berks Streets, has been a member of Prince of Peace for nearly 50 years.

The day of the fire, she stood on the sidewalk and watched. She was devastated, she recalled.

Authorities have said the fire was accidental, caused by faulty wiring.

Yesterday, after a day of worshipping, cooking and cleaning for Good Friday services and fellowship, Beale rested her feet and talked about how the blaze has energized the church.

"This was part of the plan," Beale said, nodding.

Replacing the old 40,000-square-foot structure - more space than they needed - would cost about $9 million, Shipman estimated. Although the new building will be more modest, Prince of Peace will not recoup enough insurance money to cover the tab and must embark on a capital campaign.

But faith is something the congregation is not short of. Prince of Peace plans to be worshipping in the new sanctuary, on the old site, by next Easter.

For a few months after the fire, the church shared space with a nearby congregation, New Lebanon Baptist. Donations - of money, books, Bibles, Sunday school supplies - poured in from churches and organizations of all stripes.

By October, the congregation had rented the modular space, with its open floor plan, rows of chairs, makeshift classrooms, and tiny computer lab. There were offers of space elsewhere in the city, but the congregation was firm.

"I knew that we had to be here, in this neighborhood," Shipman said.

The temporary space has presented challenges - the lack of a kitchen, in particular, has been tough. When services stretch into the afternoon, there's no place to prepare meals to encourage folks to stay. So the congregation has adapted, bringing food in and eating in the Sunday-school rooms.

"We don't really have the space that we're accustomed to, but it's a blessing that we have anything," Shipman said.

(And there are advantages to the temporary digs, too, the congregation thinks - no old building to take care of, fewer rooms to keep clean.)

A few members left, but some new ones joined.

Shipman's daughter Shavonne Cook said the inferno and its aftermath had brought the congregation closer together.

"It caused us to put our faith into action," Cook said. "We said, 'We're close-knit, we're family-oriented.' But we had to prove that, to pitch in and get it done."

And now, there are signs of encouragement all around.

"Some people can't give money, but if they see us outside cleaning up, they'll come out and help us," said Shipman, a tall, smiling man who has earned the respect of the neighborhood boys. "They'll say, 'Is there anything that needs painting?' "

That extends to the youth of the church, too. Prince of Peace went up in flames on Courtney Gray's ninth birthday, and it affected her profoundly, she said.

"When it burned down, I felt very sad, and then I did a fund-raiser, so people could help our church," said Courtney, who is Shipman's granddaughter and is taking her role in the Easter play very seriously.

Over talks yesterday about Easter dinner - there'll be more than 20 around the table - Pam Gray, Courtney's mother and another Shipman daughter, called the past year "an awesome experience."

"We are stronger," said Gray. "We have a powerful community."

Contact staff writer Kristen Graham at 215-854-5146 or