FORT WAYNE – The altar was borrowed. The candles were on loan. The offering baskets were someone else’s. The sanctuary was a gymnasium. The coffee was donated. Even the music was a gift.
But for the people of Taylor Chapel United Methodist Church, it was only more proof that God’s strength is surest in the midst of adversity.
One week ago, in the early morning hours of New Year’s Eve, a fire erupted in the sanctuary of the church at 10145 Maysville Road, near Interstate 469, in northeast Fort Wayne. Flames burned through the roof of the sanctuary, destroying it and damaging the narthex.
Sunday, the sanctuary windows were covered in plywood, but at the back of the complex, in the Family Life Center, 270 people packed the 10 a.m. worship service in a space that the day before had hosted basketball games.
“It’s only a building,” Pastor Keith Schreffler said. “It’s not the church. The church is the people.”
Many people – and churches – made Sunday’s service possible. The altar, candles and offering baskets were lent by New Haven United Methodist. Good Shepherd United Methodist sent volunteers to run child care during the service so Taylor Chapel members didn’t have to miss the worship. The Bob Evans Restaurant across the parking lot donated the coffee and will host a fundraiser. St. Joseph United Methodist lent a sound system and worship pastor Amy Cox to lead the music with her guitar and singing.
The service was full of member participation, too, with one reading Psalm 77, which begins with loss and pain but ends with praising God, and another tearfully read Psalm 23 before the crowd sang “How Great is Our God” and then spontaneously began singing “How Great Thou Art.”
The congregation’s history dates to the 1860s, and the church itself has been at the site since 1962, the year construction of the sanctuary began.
In subsequent decades, the church was expanded to include a gym and preschool.
Lead Pastor Steven Conner said in his sermon that the week since the fire has been “an ebb and flow of tears and laughter, soot and grace.”
While there is sadness, Conner said, there is also opportunity for God to work.
“Something very valuable to this community has been lost, so there’s a real grief,” he said. “But out of the ashes comes new life.”
He then told of a family trip to Yosemite National Park, where they learned that without wildfires, the forest would eventually die: The seeds are not released from pine cones until they reach temperatures achieved only during a fire.
“Fire is the mechanism by which the forest is regenerated,” Conner said. “We’re going to continue our mission.”
As the congregation left, volunteers stood at the doors with a gift for every one to take: a pine cone.