About a year and three months ago a big thing happened to us. We moved into a house in Vermont. It’s more than a house though. It’s our home. I remember unpacking some wind chimes that we received as a wedding present. That wonderful sunny day was in 2004. I remember thinking to myself, “Those chimes were waiting for this home.” It was a comforting thought. We had never before had a place to hang them.
This is the first time in my adult life that I feel truly settled. (I’m coming upon a milestone birthday later this month. I’ll let you guess which one.)
In all the places I lived I knew that I wouldn’t be there that long (meaning…more than two years). I knew that God was preparing us. I never enjoyed the process of moving. Sure, I could pack the boxes. That wasn’t the problem. It was this desire to stay put for a while. Every time we moved, it was this huge reminder that we weren’t staying put. This is the first time that I haven’t had this looming notion in my head that I wouldn’t be here for long.
I want you all to know that despite the floods and fires (literally), I am truly at home here. This is where I want to be, to serve, to grow, and to love. Better than that, I know that God wants us to be here. For that I am thankful.
I am committed to this community. So if you want something (even if it’s a cup of coffee) or you need something (like someone to talk with while drinking that cup of coffee), please do not hesitate to let me know. I’m here for you, because I want you to know that God is too.
It’s almost been a year. It’s almost been a year since we said our goodbyes. We all have our story about August 3, 2010, when the building was destroyed by a fire. Here’s my story. It’s not any more important than any other person’s story. I’ve just wanted to share for a while. Here’s a few snapshots…
My story starts on Friday, July 30th of last year. The congregation had hosted a bunch of youth here from Pennsylvania, who were doing all sorts of projects and showing people love. God’s love. That night was the last night of worship and devotions. It was done by a bonfire. It was an amazing night. Mandy gave the message. I can’t remember what she talked about. I do remember after listening to her recommitting myself to Jesus that night. I was ready to serve with even more passion than before.
On Saturday, July 31st, we (meaning Chris and I) had some good friends over. We hadn’t seen them since we moved here. Chris and I hung out with them in the backyard. Our kids played. We told them that we loved it here. We hoped that God would have us serve in South Londonderry for a long time (which is still true today).
On Sunday, August 1st, the congregation held its last worship service at the former building. Being the first Sunday of the month we celebrated the Lord’s Supper. That building had held worship services for 176 years. Afterwards, the youth from Pennsylvania headed home.
On Monday, August 2nd, Chris and I had the day off. We went to lunch with Tim and Mandy and a few others. We went grocery shopping for vacation. That night we watched a movie that was way longer than we expected. We went to bed at midnight. We never go to bed that late.
On Tuesday, August 3rd, at 3 o’clock in the morning, we heard a voice yelling in our bedroom window. Chris ran down the street to the church. I stayed home cleaning and praying every time a fire truck flew by the house. When I got a chance to walk over, I met up with Bev. She said exactly what I was telling myself. “It’s only a building.” We were all trying to reassure ourselves. Chris and I called our family and our mentors a few hours later. We ate banana bread for breakfast that our friends had brought on Saturday. God provided. We spent the day walking back and forth between our home and the location of the former church hugging and chatting and doing whatever we could. For lunch a pizza appeared. We tried to eat, when we could get a piece down. God provided. That night we had a prayer vigil. We prayed. I worried that day, because I couldn’t remember how many times I had nursed my little one. I just couldn’t remember. That night we answered emails. Lots and lots of emails. We slept well that night, because, well, we were really tired.
On Wednesday, August 4th, we updated the website. Chris and I decided to postpone vacation that would have started the next week. No need to feel bad, because I had recommitted myself to Jesus Friday night. I had wanted that vacation so much, but I wanted to serve Jesus more. A family had us over for dinner. God provided.
I do not know why God allowed the building to be destroyed by fire. I do know that He can use something pretty terrible for good. I’ve seen it here in our little town of South Londonderry. I found myself saying a few weeks ago, “Besides not having a building, we’re doing great.” Praise God. We haven’t closed the doors. We’ve opened them even wider.
I’m going to close my longer than normal post with some scripture. During my daily reading, I found this passage from Isaiah this week. It is such a comfort and reminds me that God has kept His promises. “But now, this is what the LORD says… ‘Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze. For I am the LORD your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior’ (43:1-3a NIV)."
What are your reflections or scripture passages that you would like to share as we approach our one year mark? How do you think that God has brought good from the fire?
I live in a beautiful old house. A lot of work has been put into it over the last few years, and I am so thankful to call this place home. I can't say there's anything I would change. Well, there's just one thing. There's a threshold into one of the bedrooms upstairs that has a nail that sticks out of it about a half inch. I have stepped on it more times than I can count. I put a hole in a sock on that nail. I'm actually wearing that sock as I write. So you're probably thinking, "Why don't they hammer it in?" Good question. Chris did. Within a few days it came back up. It has been a thorn in our side.
Paul in the New Testament refers to having a thorn in his side. It wasn't a literal thorn. No one is sure what the thorn was, but many believe that it was a severe physical illness (such as migraine headaches). First Baptist's thorn came in the form of a fire. It would be easy to pack up and call it quits. The thing that keeps me going is what happens when Paul asks God to give him relief.
Paul writes, "Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.' Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong" (2 Corinthians 12:8-10).
Our church has been made weak by destruction, and our church will be made strong by the power of Christ.
A couple weeks ago Chris (the love of my life) and I were talking about a coffee mug. I had given it to Chris for Christmas years ago. At least three or so. It was a big mug (like Gilmore Girls but tall), and I found it at a pottery store (so it kept the coffee warmer). It was his favorite mug, and we love coffee. I'm sure that will be a topic for another day. We had a discussion about how it had been such a good mug. Well about a week ago it bit the dust. I heard Chris say, "uh-oh," after the handle on his favorite mug cracked. It no longer was usable.
You may be wondering why I spent so long writing about this mug. I want to point out that we become attached to stuff. It can be valuable (in the eye of an antique dealer or the beholder). We form emotional attachments to things without realizing it. The First Baptist Church building had been around for many years. There are so many memories wrapped up in the building and some of the stuff in the building. In moments like these I reflect on when Jesus said: "Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal" (Matthew 6:19-20 NIV).
It's easy right now to be caught up in the past with our memories, but this small reminder from Jesus helps us to remember that we can look to the future with hope. Maybe I'll find a new favorite mug for Chris, and in the future we will have a new building in which we can gather together and worship God.
We all know that Jesus said these words. Communion is all about remembering. Last Sunday we celebrated Communion for the first time since the fire. I'm sure we'll have a lot of firsts. Communion was the same as always, and it was different. It was the same, because we remembered Jesus' sacrifice on the Cross. We ate the bread and drank the juice. We had the same linen napkins, because someone brought them home to wash last month. It was different, because we used a different communion set (thanks to the Second Congregational Church and Gove Hill). Most of all, we were in a different place.
I'm not sure if other followers of Jesus remember specific instances of celebrating communion. I have a handful of times that I remember, and last Sunday will be of them. It was a little sad. I went to reach for the goblet and realized that I would have to raise a small cup instead. It just wasn't the same. And it hit me. We've lost our church building. We didn't cause it to happen though. Jesus, on the other hand, made a choice to give His life for us. He lost His life, so we could have life. I'm a little sad, but more than that, I'm so thankful for Jesus.
A few days ago I was walking up the hill past the church. I do that a lot since we live further up the hill, and we have to walk down the hill to the post office and credit union. Most everyone in town knows that not much was saved from the church after the fire. There I was walking, and a page from a hymnal was lying on the ground. I'm a curious person, so I picked it up. The hymn facing up was "God Will Take Care of You." The page has some burn marks, but I could read all the words. Please take the time to read through this hymn (see below).
I found this hymn to be most encouraging. God comforts us, when we need it most. The second half of the last verse I found particularly comforting. It says, "Lean, weary one, upon His breast, God will take care of you." Wow. That's what God has been doing for the last month. God has been holding this congregation upon His breast, and I am so thankful.
God has been laying on my heart to write a blog for a while, and I believe He wanted me to do it as our congregation continues on this journey. Sometimes I'll write about living out our faith, and sometimes I'll write about plans for a new building. Whatever God seems to be laying on my heart, I'll write about it. My goal is to post weekly or bi-weekly as time allows. Feel free to comment or ask questions.
This is written by Kathleen Blackey, follower of Jesus and co-pastor at First Baptist Church.