On Saturday, August 17, 2014 Amazing Grace Baptist Church burnt down. It was suspected arson, but no one could substantiate that claim. My phone lit up in the middle of the night with frantic texts and pictures of the engulfed building, as the onlookers were watching it fall before their eyes.
It wasn’t one of those flashy church buildings that had drawn big crowds or hosted big name concerts. In fact, you’ve probably never heard of it. But it was the church I grew up in. Racing through the halls as a child, singing my first solo, adolescent drama, the place I was married, and the place that held my Grandma’s funeral. To you this place may have no significance at all, but to me it was special.
My dad is the pastor of this small congregation. He is the quiet introverted sort, who has faithfully led the congregation for many years. He is also my hardworking, blue-collar dad that can craft just about anything out of wood. Needless to say, his talents of craftsmanship were all over that building. If there was ever a building project, he never hired out, he did the work himself. Renovations, pulpits, choir walls, you name it, he made it.
I sat up in bed and stared at the picture of that building, with flames bellowing out the top, and felt loss. Loss of a very special place I would never see again, or be able to share with my children. Loss for the people who worshipped there every Sunday. Loss for my dad… for his years of labor he poured into that place. Grief. Loss.
Just hours after the incident, my dad mustered up courage to face the congregation with a firm reminder that a church is not a building, it’s the people bonded together, serving God, each other, and the community. A complete demolition took place. And without missing a beat, the congregation found an alternative meeting place. A small room in my parent’s basement became the church office. And as the ashes settled, the close-knit group of believers stepped up to rebuild.
Let me pause here to say, when something like this happens, real people experience real emotions of hurt, loss, anger, and sadness. And there are times when feet can feel like lead when you take a step… even when you know it’s in the right direction. But keep on stepping. With every step you gain momentum. And before long you are running full steam ahead. This played out in a very tangible way as the people started the process to reconstruct a new house of worship…
The hard working people of AGBC have labored endlessly to rebuild. They have sacrificed family time, relaxing evenings, and countless hours to hang drywall, grout tile, and install windows and doors. Though this has been a season of hard work, the congregation has been given new purpose.
They know now they were a part of something big. Call it what you will, a God thing, a peripety, but it was an unexplainable circumstance that picked them up and changed their direction. No one will ever know all of the whys, but they’ve been given the opportunity to experience the provisional hand of God.
I for one have loved seeing the progress, as well as the congregation bond together in a common purpose. I have loved hearing about my dad rushing out in the mornings, to work on the building, and the twinkle in his eye when he shares their almost completed project.
Well, the day has come…
Today is a very special day and a very special Christmas. The long awaited gift is being opened. This morning! The worshippers will walk through the new doors, sit in the new padded pews, smell the fresh scent of carpet, and hear the ring of their voices as they sing praises to the God who restores.
Our Great God has taken ashes and once again created beauty. He has covered our heaviness with a garment of praise. And on His birthday, let us worship Him for His goodness. Let us praise Him for His greatness. And let us lift His Holy Name in His new sanctuary.
*Photo credit: Dean Clarkson