MONROE, Ohio (WCPO) - The last Sunday in September was a special day at the Solid Rock Church in Monroe as it dedicated its new Jesus statue that faces Interstate 75.
The original "King of Kings" 62-foot sculpture burned down in June of 2010, after it was struck by lightning during a thunderstorm. It was made of foam and fiberglass, which church officials admit contributed to the fire.
The 1600 member church held a special dedication service for 7:00 p.m. Sunday to celebrate the construction of the new "Lux Mundi" statue, which is named for "The Light of the World". The service is also honoring Pastor Lawrence Bishop who died last year after spearheading construction of the original Jesus statue for the church.
Solid Rock church is planning to hold a fireworks display following the dedication service.
Church leaders are relieved the new statue is finished and ready for its dedication.
"It's a big, big event for us. As you said, it's been over 2 years, it's been a long process. But, we're very pleased with the final product. Peoples' reaction has been very positive for us. So it's a great day," said church administrator Ron Carter.
Some church members remember the statue fire brought their congregation publicity that was both good and bad.
"When it got burnt down, people looked at it in different ways. Some people left the church, they thought it was a bad sign. That this was a bad place to be. Other people saw it as a good sign. It's the most that Jesus has been in the news for a while, so. It being rebuilt just puts it on people's minds and in people's hearts," said Nick Isbel.
The new Jesus statue is designed by Japanese American sculptor Tom Tsuchiya. It has its arms reaching forward rather than up to the sky, in a design some referred to as "Touchdown Jesus" or "Big Butter Jesus".
The new statue has already picked up the nickname "Hug Me Jesus".
"Ultimately, I hope Lux Mundi will be a constant reminder for all of us to get along with each other," Tsuchiya said.
The improved statue has a lightning rod on top of its head and a complete lightning suppression system.
"The materials themselves are new materials. They have a good fire rating on them, so we're pretty confident that it will do okay in a storm," said administrator Carter.
The church is refusing to say how much construction of the new statue costs because, it says, of a confidentiality agreement with the sculptor.
Other church member are just happy to see the Jesus statue back in place overlooking Interstate 75, north of the Monroe exit.
"We're happy to see the statue going up tonight. All of this is just allowing us to remind people of Jesus and that's all it is," says church member Al Slaughter from Fairfield.
About an hour before the dedication service was set to start, a group of 6 to 7 protesters with a bullhorn and signs demonstrated across the road from the entrance to the church. The group says they are Christians who oppose idol worship. They accuse the Solid Rock Church of worshiping an idol with the Jesus statue.
Some demonstrators were reluctant to give their names but say they wanted to call attention to their contention that the Church may be violating rules in the Old Testament about avoiding idol worship with a service for a statue dedication.
Several Monroe Police cruisers were stationed at the church to keep the peace between demonstrators and service participants.