On March 13th, I was searching the internet, in stunned silence, for scenes of First United Methodist Church in Ada, Ohio. At about 12:20 that day a police office noticed smoke rising from the building. The Head Start class was finishing up for the day, practicing a tornado drill when he alerted them to get out of the building. Shortly after that the fire had spread so much that it looked like a ball of orange bursting through the stone walls. The building was completely destroyed, with only the walls, bell tower, and a back section left standing. Pictures taken afterwards showed a harsh, empty shell of what had served not only the needs of a thriving congregation but also many of the activities of the small college town. Having been pastor at St. Mark Lutheran in Ada for 14 years I was quite familiar with the building and many of the members of the congregation (two of its members had served as our secretaries over the time I was there.)
The theologian in me took over. I couldn’t help but think about a song we used to sing in Bible School:
I am the church! You are the church! We are the church together!
All who follow Jesus, all around the world! Yes, we're the church together!
- Verse 1 The church is not a building, the church is not a steeple,
the church is not a resting place, the church is a people. (Refrain)
I noticed that comments made on Facebook pages frequently observed the same thing. Their beloved building was gone, but the church would continue. I have no doubt that they will become a stronger congregation for what they need to face now.
I think that we who are the people of Prince of Peace Evangelical Lutheran Church have discovered this same truth about ourselves. We have learned that fires come in various forms, and often ones without flames can cause as much destruction. We have found that we are becoming stronger as we press on. We have also learned that our efforts require each and every person who is part of this congregation to take on a task in order for us to become the church that God wants us to be.
With Easter just around the corner, it is a good time for us to remember that because of the death and resurrection of Christ Jesus we are the church. We do not need to fear what is ahead for us, for the cross and Christ go before us.
Pastor Julianne D. Smith+