By Rich Shaffer, Conference Lay Leader
Last Sunday’s morning worship service was not the usual worship service the congregation of Florence Memorial United Methodist Church is accustom to attending. A tent was set up and prepared for worship in the parking lot of the church because tragedy struck Sunday, July 28th at 10:30 pm when flames shot from the church roof. The roof was totally destroyed by fire and the heat was so great the building cannot be salvaged.
On Sunday, the breeze occasionally caught the lingering smell of burnt wood which could be detected under the worship tent. As I talked to my Florence Memorial brothers and sisters in Christ, I reminded them “The church is here under this tent, the building is not the church.”
They would agree and say that they were looking forward to the opportunities God would give them to re-build the church building, but they were mourning the memories the church building kept alive…weddings, infant baptisms, people who were saved in that church, funerals, worship services and many many, more. They are very optimistic and determined to re-build and thankful no one was hurt in the fire. They have great hope and will one day see another sanctuary where they can worship together.
The opening hymn was Church in The Wildwood. We heard a brief history of Florence Memorial and the future vision of the church. Western District Superintendent Rev. Dr. Okey Harless delivered words of encouragement for the future.
The bell that had fallen from the steeple when it collapsed was rung for 64 seconds to represent the church’s 64 years of worship in the church building. As Bishop Sandra Steiner Ball blessed the communion elements, she reminded those gathered that Jesus first shared the cup and bread with his disciples in a borrowed space, much like we today were sharing communion in sort of a borrowed space.
As we sang the closing hymn, How Great Thou Art, the congregation moved out of the tent where the remains of the church was visible. Leaders from the West Virginia Conference were present, as were pastors from neighboring churches. The congregation from Crockett-Booten UMC cancelled its service and attended in mass to support their brothers and sisters at Florence Memorial. The show of concern and support was greatly appreciated and was a rewarding experience for all in attendance.
Please continue to keep this congregation in prayer as they discover what God has in store for their future.
Click here to view our Flickr album of photos of Florence Memorial.
Click here to view more photos from the worship service from the Huntington Herald-Dispatch.