Small congregation contemplates new church or repairs after fire

Unattended candle starts blaze at Eldersburg church

April 20, 1999|By Mike Farabaugh | Mike Farabaugh,SUN STAFF

An overlooked burning candle, a prayer vigil's symbol of seeking God's help for the future, will force a tiny Eldersburg congregation to make a quick decision about whether to build a new church.

A fire that started when the large candle fell off a sanctuary stand next to the organ damaged the Church of the Nazarene, in the 300 block of Liberty Road, Saturday. The Rev. Joe Ward's congregation is deciding whether to repair the damage or accelerate plans for a new building.

"We will meet with insurance adjusters as soon as we can and look at our options," said Ward, who became pastor in September and is working to expand the congregation of about 50.

"We have new carpet on order, but maybe now is the right time to make major changes," he said.

The congregation, which is affiliated with the District Church of the Nazarene in Washington, crowded into the basement of the parsonage for worship Sunday, Ward said.

That arrangement might suffice for a week or two, but Ward said other interim sites are being considered, including one at an Eldersburg business.

Space offered

"One business owner came to us and offered space on a temporary basis, but no definite plans have been made," Ward said.

Other options would be to find a storefront or space in a school to rent, he said.

The church has planned a tent revival next month for greater visibility, hoping to attract attention and boost membership.

"We didn't have sirens and flashing lights in mind as a way to draw attention," Ward said.

The fire broke out about 8 p.m. when the burning candle apparently rolled onto the floor and ignited the end of the organ, he said.

Two passers-by saw the fire, Ward said. "One called 911, and the other ran to the parsonage to alert me," he said.

Ward said he checks the church each evening and extinguishes burning candles. He said he was at a District Assembly and didn't check the church when he returned Saturday because someone cleans Friday or Saturday before services Sunday.

"The cleaners were pulling up just as the firetrucks arrived," he said.

Damage estimate $15,000

The damage, estimated at $15,000, was mainly from water and smoke, he said.

The organ, which was borrowed from a Bowie church and was to be returned this week, and a piano were damaged beyond repair.

The fire damage was confined to the sanctuary, but water and smoke ruined Bibles and song books, Ward said.

"It's really strange that of all the people who normally go through the church every day, no one saw that candle burning," Ward said. "I'm just glad no one was injured. This will draw people together. I heard some saying [Sunday night] that now is the time to look forward."

Ward said a man who witnessed the fire with his children later returned to the church. He said his son wanted to help the church and gave Ward five $20 bills.

Pub Date: 4/20/99

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