Congregation celebrates its small miracles

Reisterstown church hit by lightning was spared

July 12, 2004|By Lisa Goldberg | Lisa Goldberg,SUN STAFF

With their main sanctuary still off-limits yesterday - waterlogged and scarred by fire and smoke - members of Northwest Baptist Church crammed into a too-small space in their fellowship center and prayed.

The room was sparse - with white folding chairs instead of pews, no organ, and small TV monitors in place of the giant screen used by the high-tech congregation to broadcast words of worship and song.

But none of that seemed to faze those who came to the Reisterstown church to listen and sing and praise the good timing and small miracles they believed saved the church from burning to the ground after its steeple was struck by lightning Wednesday.

"It is a blessing," church member Yvonne Dell told those who arrived at an adult Bible study class after the 9:30 a.m. service. "It could have been totally gone, but [God] spared us. He gave us a little bit to catch our attention, and now we just have to say, `OK, God, what do you want?'"

Four days after storms blew through the state, collapsing roofs, flooding basements and sparking the fire that left the sanctuary at Northwest Baptist with a gaping hole in its roof and a persistent smell of smoke in the hallway outside, church members said they know it could have been much worse.

Firefighters' help

The lightning hit at 3 p.m., when church employees were still in the building to discover the fire and call authorities. And one of the first firefighters on the scene was off-duty Baltimore County Fire Department Capt. Bob Murray Sr., a church member who knew the building inside and out - from the stairways to the utilities.

Murray said he and his firefighter son, Bob Jr., who grew up in the church, were able to guide firefighters to contain the blaze.

"I know it's sad that it happened, but you could just see where God's protection was all over it," he said yesterday.

The blaze left the sanctuary, which was built in 1995, unusable for the short term, said the Rev. Les Cordonnier, the church's pastor of discipleship and administration. The floor and carpeting probably will have to be replaced, as will the hymnals and Bibles, and the roof will have to be repaired. But the church was insured, and officials are working to get the sanctuary back in shape, he said.

Still, with renovations expected to take about three months, church officials said they knew they needed a plan to accommodate the 35-year-old institution's 1,000 members:

The structure's old sanctuary, which recently was turned into a fellowship center, was quickly converted into the main worship space. And church leaders made plans to add a third Sunday service, at 8:30 a.m., next week to accommodate the worshipers - the old sanctuary holds about 200 people compared with 600 in the new one.

`Holy smoke'

During the first of two services yesterday, the references to the church's predicament were numerous - and optimistic.

"Well, holy smoke, holy fire, holy water and holy God," Jeff Blaylock, the youth pastor, told those gathered for a 9:30 a.m. service. "It is great to be here today."

And the Rev. Gary C. Glanville, the church's senior pastor who was on vacation, left behind a DVD message for his flock.

"God protected the staff and most of the material house in the midst of the storm," he said. "Buildings can be replaced."

After the service, church members said they believed there was a greater message.

"It's a minor setback," said Carolyn Kapus of Owings Mills. "We see this as an opportunity that God will provide for us, and we'll grow from it."

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