If you haven't yet heard the news through The Leaf-Chronicle or Facebook, Bethlehem UMC, of which Matt is pastor, was struck by lightning and burned to the ground last night.
Matt has been in Costa Rica on a mission trip since Saturday, but is flying back today. The congregation is devastated, as you can imagine. This historic building was church-home to several generations of some members' families, and holds a very special place in the hearts of its members and many in the community who enjoyed its beautiful sanctuary for weddings and other events. It was also featured recently in the video for Trace Adkins' song, Muddy Water. (It's a lovely song, and shows the church as we'd prefer to remember it, not engulfed as it is in the Leaf Chronicle photos and as it is burned into the memories of the members who went to the church in the middle of the night.)
As evidenced in that last sentence, I keep finding myself stumbling over the distinction between "church" and "church building." Though I keep reminding people that "the church is the people, not the building," I still catch myself saying "the church burned down," etc. "The site" and "the structure" sound so cold, but it really is important to remember that the church has not been destroyed--only its building. The church community is very strong and will go on serving God and loving one another. While this was a place where many people experienced God each week, we must remember that God cannot be contained in a physical structure. He is with us wherever we are and wherever we worship.
I went to the site this morning, where many Bethlehem members are holding vigil, coping with the shock and rallying together in the love and camaraderie this faith community is known for. The rubble was still smoldering, and there seems to be little that can be salvaged, though the "1836" cornerstone (from the first building, which burned in the 1880s), some of the diamond-shaped stained glass pieces from the windows, and some songbooks open to the song "Great is Our God" had been pulled out and laid on the sidewalk.
Matt and I (and the whole Bethlehem community) are thankful for your prayers, and pray that God will show us a good, new way forward. We will be holding worship on the grounds this Sunday at 10am, and all are welcome.