The burned smell of the House of Prayer 1 lay heavy in the heat Sunday, as an Owensville church met on the grass a few yards from their fire-gutted building.
No one would have guessed the small congregation in southern Anne Arundel County was meeting for the first time since losing its brick and stucco church last week. Or that members have no insurance and no money to rebuild, that even the chairs on which they sat were borrowed from an Annapolis funeral parlor.
This was a sweet service for about 60 faithful members, an occasion of joy.
The countryside rocked with their joy, a happy beat that the drummer picked up from the keyboard player and the people repeated to the jingle of the tambourine.
It was a fine morning, a goodday, folks said, even though an electrical fire last week destroyed the church building, 50 years of marriage, birth and death records, most of the wooden pews, two Hammond organs and a piano.
They sang:"I got joy, joy, joy in my soul . . . since Jesus made everything right." They sang, "The Lord will make a way, somehow."
Little girlsin summer dresses sat by grandmothers clutching partly burned Bibles, salvaged from the fire, singing and mourning their loss.
Said Izetta Pinkney, the minister's wife, "Everything is just gone, and we have to start from scratch."
But the ashes of the 30-by-50-foot church represented a chance to show their faith in God; and church members rose to shout.
"God's gonna build us a mansion," said a woman.
"By the help of God, we're going to raise an edifice to the heavens!" said the Rev. William Pinkney III.
Pointing to the heaps of black-singed bricks in front of the burned church, the 54-year-old minister said it was a good day to remember the lessons of Job.
"Job said, 'Though he slay me, yet will I trust him,' " quoted Pinkney. "Now's the time to trust Him. I tell you, the Lord never failed me yet."
Men in suits, faces drenched with perspiration, held big umbrellas over ladies wearing their Sunday hats. Ushers passed around cups ofcold water.
"We still got our jobs," said Pinkney, who works at Howard University and receives no salary from the church. "There's still food in my refrigerator. I'm still happy in my soul."
Faulty electrical wiring caused the two-alarm fire, Pinkney said. The country church had not met building codes, so they had not been able to purchase insurance, although they had been saving money to bring the building up to standard, he said.
On Monday night, Aug. 5, parishionerssmelled smoke about halfway through the 9:30 p.m. service, but by 10p.m. the smell had dissipated and church members went home.
Several people living near the church saw heavy smoke in the air about 1 p.m. but couldn't tell where it was coming from. When firefighters arrived at the 5000 block of Sudley Road, the church was in flames.
The fire was trapped between an old roof and a second, wood roof, and by the time it was under control, little was left but the masonry walls. No one was hurt, but the damage was estimated at $75,000.
Saturday, the church met to decide what to do next. They voted to rebuildand do the work themselves, as much as possible.
"We're trying tofind a licensed carpenter and an electrician," said the minister's wife. "We have nothing left. We don't have money. But everybody is anxious to work."
The day of the fire she was talking on the telephone to a woman who lives next to the church. Someone knocked on the friend's door. Izetta Pinkney held the line.
When the woman returned,she said the church was on fire and the fire department had been called. "It stunned me," Izetta recalls. "Nothing but God has kept me halfway sane."
She usually prays in her bathroom, "so I went in there and the Lord began to speak to me and said, 'All things work together for those who love the Lord.' "
From the fire, the church has learned that their neighbors care about them, Pinkney says. The outpouring of concern has overwhelmed the tiny church, which is non-denominational, a self-described mixture of Baptist, Methodist and holiness churches.
"We just believe in serving God," Pinkney says. "We workwith all the churches and everybody in return works with us."
Five area churches have called and offered to let the church meet in their buildings for free. Offers came from the Harvest Church of God in Edgewater; a Deale Church of God; another House of Prayer (non-affiliated) in Edgewater; the Galesville Ebenezer African Methodist Episcopal Church; the Chews United Methodist Church; and a friend's church in Washington.
Two community centers in the area also offered meeting space, and Reese & Sons Mortuary in Annapolis lent chairs and offered their chapel as a gathering place.
The House of Prayer plans to meet around the other church's schedules.
"We're going to use everybody because we want them to know we appreciate the offers," said the minister's wife.
"I guess a reason for the fire is to show people we still have folks that love each other, not just in our church but surrounding communities."