I awoke Monday morning to the news that an historic church building in downtown Whitby had sustained significant damage in a fire that appears to have been deliberately set.
Any building fire is tragic, and church fires are often especially tragic. This particular church fire meant something to me, however. All Saints’ Anglican Church in Whitby is a congregation with which I have some acquaintance. When I served with the Canadian Bible Society, I was privileged to partner with the congregation. I have preached from its now-charred pulpit. I have received the Lord’s Supper from its now-smoke-stained altar. I consider its Rector a personal friend. I am praying with and for these people.
Throughout the media coverage of this story, God’s goodness has shown up in amazing ways. The congregation has been offered space by other churches for its offices, for its worship, and for its choir rehearsals. The Christmas food hampers that had been prepared for distribution on Monday were replaced through community donations within a matter of hours. And anytime the Incumbent was called upon to speak to the media, he always spoke as if the life of the church would carry on – because it will!
To be sure, there are countless memories that are associated with the 140-plus year-old building that, in one sense, have gone up in smoke. However, though the building may not be what it once was, the memories remain.
The building burned in the early morning hours, and no one was injured. When the congregation gathers at the facilities graciously offered by St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church in Whitby for worship this coming Sunday, the people who will be in attendance will probably be the same people who were in attendance last Sunday. And that is instructive for us: though the building was heavily damaged, the church was not! The people are the church. The historic building on Dundas Street may have burned, but All Saints’ Anglican Church still stands – probably stronger than ever.
Buildings are useful gifts of God, full of happy associations and memories. But when the buildings are gone, and the memories forgotten, the church remains.
May that be true for you, and for your church!
My encouragement to our sisters and brothers at All Saints’, and to us all, is this: “be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God so you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes” (Ephesians 6.11, NIV). The enemy has meant this tragedy to discourage God’s people, but I believe it will make them more determined than ever to be the church.