When the phone rings at 7:00 am it can never be good. Yesterday, it wasn’t.
We actually weren’t quick enough to catch the call, leaping from bed, running down the hall, only to find the phone too late, a missed call, but a familiar number; they wouldn’t normally call at this time of day. Then the other phone starts up. Same person. We get it this time.
“The church is on fire. You need to get there”, short and not so sweet.
Minutes later we are in the car, racing toward what could be a disaster, studying the horizon, looking for the plume of black smoke we imagine will be hanging over the village, 17 kilometers away. Wondering if our church home had been destroyed. Wondering if my still meager collection of books has been lost. Wondering how this event might change our lives.
We arrive to a parking lot filled with fire trucks, but no smoke plume, no dancing flames. There has been a fire, but it’s already out. It was not a false alarm. In fact, it was a very close call. An early rising neighbour, hearing the alarms going off across the street, called 911. Firefighters got to the scene early enough to fight the fire from inside the building rather than the outside.
There was a sense of unbelief, some relief, and also a huge mess. A small area on the stage had burnt. Soot covered the entire sanctuary. Water was dripping into the kitchen and nursery. Structurally there is no damage, but we feel overwhelmed by the scope of the task clean up will be.
The insurance company is called. A restoration company comes along with the adjuster and, by early afternoon, a crew is working to deal with water, opening ventilation in downstairs ceilings and moving in huge fans and dehumidifiers. By day two more crews arrive, books and benches are removed for cleaning. Water damaged drywall and soot filled carpet start to fill a dump trailer parked out front. We feel like we have been invaded by worker ants and the future seems a little closer, a little clearer, a little less overwhelming.
Our service for this coming Sunday was already planned for a park as part of of our annual church camping. We won’t be in our own building for at least a couple of weeks after that, but like the woman who brought cookies and coffee for the fire fighters, our community is a generous one. Space has been offered in other churches until we can get cleaned up. Helping hands have been offered. Notes and calls of concern received.
I’ve been able to work in my office these past two days. The door was closed and it is far from enough the center of the blaze to be relatively unaffected. My books are safe. My schedule is out of whack with people coming through, questions to answer, contingency plans to discuss. Sunday’s sermon is a little behind schedule, but it will come.
We’re grieving too. Our church home has been violated. Precious things are damaged and being handled by strangers. Some things can’t be made the same again and it seems, right now anyway, we can’t do anything but wander through, trying to absorb what has happened.