Watching Your Church Burn

fire3This past Friday, February 20, 2015 news came across the airwaves that a church in Reidsville was burning. It looked familiar, even though they did not mention the name of the church at that time. I mentioned to my wife that this church looked like Mt. Carmel, in the Oregon Hill section, between Ruffin and Wentworth. Sure enough the news finally told the sad news that it was Mt. Carmel United Methodist Church.

I know that church because I spent five years in the Ruffin Church – just down the road – four years while I was in seminary at Duke and one additional year so my son could graduate from Rockingham High School. We held joint services with that church during Lent, Easter and Thanksgiving, and sometimes even had joint revival services. I am sad for the people of that church. I know how they are feeling this morning.

You see, back on Good Friday in 1974 a large weather system went through the western part of our state. We were serving our first year on the Murphy Circuit. During the night a cat 5 tornado hit Murphy. Ranger UMC – one of the churches I served was an old white two story building – was hit by the tornado, knocked off the foundation and gas from a broken gas line caught the building on fire and burned it to the ground. It was a terrible site and an even worse feeling. The following Sunday the District Superintendent met with the people of the church and they overwhelmingly decided to rebuild. Ranger has a beautiful building today.

In the spring of 1976 the Pine Bluff UMC I was serving was hit by lightening from a violent thunder storm. The lightening struck one of the trees in the front of the church, followed the roots to the church and set it on fire. Unlike the Ranger church, we heard the fire call and stood in the front yard of the church watching our it burn with tears of sadness running down our cheeks. We were lucky that we had a fellowship hall to meet in until we could rebuild. Pine Bluff has a beautiful church building today. We rebuilt that church in less than a year completely debt free.

I can’t find the words that adequately express the emptiness, sadness, loss and despair one feels as you watch your church burn… you feel so helpless. It is like “Wait a minute, this isn’t supposed to happen… churches are God’s house… they are not supposed to burn.” What a wake up call to how fragile a church really is. Some churches burn down and fall apart long before the flames ever start. The backbiting and power battles leave many a church an empty shell before the clouds begin to gather.

I must add that the people of the Ranger Church and the Pine Bluff Church came together and worked hard, prayed hard, and pulled together to make their new buildings a place where God would dwell… where God would live… where God would be alive through them. Yes, they were good people before the tornado and the lightening. Afterwards they were even closer… they had been through the storm, survived the fire… picked up the rubble, joined hands and hearts and built something even better… a church where Jesus would live.

Keep the people of Mt. Carmel in your prayers and in your heart. One thing I hope you will join me in doing… send them a check to let them know you care and want to help them rebuild. Rev. Glenda Bennett is the pastor. I pray that we fill up her mail box with checks and their hearts with acts of kindness. (

I have published three new books which are listed at the bottom of the header above. If you would like to take the time to click on each title and read a sample chapter, I would be very grateful. The Sayings of Noah is a sermon series I wrote for Lent which came from the sayings my grandson, Noah, made around the time he was four years old. It is a lite Lenten approach. The Daily Moments with Pastor Steve are daily devotionals. And the Grieving Heart is a collection of uplifting funeral homilies I have given over the years. I hope you will enjoy reading these and even more I hope they will help you help others.

Thanks, Steve.

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