by William Croyle (Cincinnati Equirer) - Jesus is back overlooking Interstate 75 outside Solid Rock Church.
The 52-foot statue of Christ was dedicated Sunday evening before a near-capacity crowd at a 90-minute church service, followed by prayer outside near the statue and fireworks.
The 30,000-pound statue is of Jesus standing in a white robe with his arms stretched toward the highway. The statue replaces one of the same height, built in 2004, that burned after being struck by lightning in June 2010.
The new statue was sculpted by Tom Tsuchiya of Oakley. Tsuchiya was the first to speak during the service.
"What you see is the embracing symbol of Jesus' love and his commandment that we love one another as he has loved all of us," he said.
The ceremony was held on the one-year anniversary of the death of the church's pastor, Lawrence Bishop, who died of a stroke.
"That statue was our pastor's dream," said Gloria Tirey of Middletown.
Tirey greeted guests on Sunday as they came into the church. She has been part of the 3,500-member congregation for 20 years.
"There was no doubt that we would rebuild it," she said.
The statue's surroundings aren't quite finished yet. A pond of water will fill the base of it in the spring of 2013. The statue also has "lightning protection," according to business administrator Ron Carter.
Across the street from the church, protesters of the statue used a bullhorn to yell at those driving into the church grounds. Their message was that the original statue was struck down by God because it is a graven image of him and breaks the second commandment.
"God struck down the last statue. What do you think is going to happen to this one?" they shouted.
Inside the service, Pastor Lawrence Bishop II briefly acknowledged the protesters, saying their actions were "the demons trembling."
"One thing we can give you at Solid Rock is Jesus with open arms," he said to a standing ovation from the congregation. "Solid Rock Church says to the world, 'We give you Jesus Christ!' "
Becky Combs of Xenia, a nine-year member of the church, was happy to see the statue rebuilt.
"It gives you hope," she said. "God is great, and God is huge."