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A Church Is Not Its Building (But It Still Hurts When It Burns Down)

A church is not its building, and yet the building — and all of the things that it contains — is so important.
Zion Fire #1

There are two sets of photos on my camera. The first is of a wedding that my wife and I attended last night with some of our closest friends. It took place at our neighborhood church, a beautiful old brick building that was built over a hundred years ago. Renae and I were married there, as were many of our friends. It’s a lovely place for a wedding, the sanctuary simple and relatively unadorned (except for a mural up front that seems strikingly out of place, though I’ve always had a fondness for it), with high ceilings and stained glass windows on either side. It still has the old wooden pews, worn smooth over the years, and a classic pipe organ. It even has a bell, that rings out on special occasions to announce them to the world.

The second set is of that same church. Only now, it lies in ruins.

Earlier this morning, we got one of the most surreal calls from our neighbor. We then spent the next two hours walking around, sitting on the porch, staring in disbelief and dismay, praying, holding each other, and mostly just crying. Meanwhile, our church burned to the ground before our eyes. We saw the smoke billowing out of its two towers, the beautiful colored windows shatter and explode from the heat within, and finally, the roof collapse, revealing twisted and blackened metal girders.

A church is not its building, and yet the building — and all of the things that it contains — is so important. It provides a place of fellowship and community, full of activity and noise and laughter throughout the week. It provides a sanctioned place for those most solemn and important of occasions: baptisms, funerals, and of course, weddings. I kept my composure through most of the morning’s ordeal. However, I almost lost it when I walked around and saw the side door I used when I entered the church on my wedding day.

It’s all just stuff — that door, the stained glass windows, the big old Bible in the lobby, the drawings that lined the stairs leading to the sanctuary, the toys in the nursery, even that oft-discussed mural. And yet, it was through that stuff that God chose to minister to us, and that we used to minister to each other and those around us. The irony of the situation is that tomorrow, we were going to have a groundbreaking ceremony for a new addition to the church. An addition that would’ve allowed us to minister in even better and deeper ways.

The church is gone, but the Church remains. We’re just in a bit of a daze right now.

If you’re of the praying kind, please pray for my church — the people, that is. We may no longer have a building, but we have each other, and we have God. Please pray that we’d find strength, hope, and faith in this mess. Please pray that we’d draw together in unity and love. Please pray for our elders and deacons, that they’d have wisdom as they try to figure out the next step. Please pray that this, even this, can be turned to good by our Heavenly Father.

On a sidenote, I found myself filled with an incredible urge to go up to some firefighter and give them a hug. The fact that these complete strangers would come and endure hardship and danger to help our community is a humbling thought. I realize that the firefighters and police officers on the scene were just doing their job, but what a glorious and noble job they do. So thanks, and blessings, to them, as well as prayers for those who were injured in the line of duty.

Zion Fire #2
Zion Fire #3
Zion Fire #4
Zion Fire #5
Zion Fire #6
Zion Fire #7

The full ​“Zion Fire” photo set is available on Flickr.

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