After Carroll County church burns down, charity continues

Food pantry continues to serve community even as church itself is in need

December 21, 2013|By Carrie Wells, The Baltimore Sun

Weeks ago, fire tore through a church that nearly straddles the Mason-Dixon Line, destroying books, the organ, the food bank pantry, the choir room, and nearly everything else. Hand bells swung by congregants for generations exploded from their casings in the heat and landed in the nearby graveyard.

On Saturday morning, cars lined the parking lot of a day care center a quarter-mile from the remains of Lazarus Church in Lineboro, waiting patiently for the temporary food bank to open. After the Dec. 3 fire, church volunteers were deluged with donations for the food bank and decided that their monthly tradition must continue even without a permanent home.

"The building now looks like a sign of death," said Sam Chamelin, pastor of the 180-member Lazarus United Church of Christ congregation. "But this reminds us that we're alive and well, and can still be a church."

Carol Kicas, a member of the Lazarus Church Mission Committee, sat at a small table in the Sunshine Child Development Center and handed out laminated cards good for milk and eggs at local markets to her regular food pantry clients. Volunteers hauled paper shopping bags full of brownie mix, canned vegetables, instant mashed potatoes, pasta, tangerines and more to the cars waiting outside. Saturday was the Lazarus re:deem Food Pantry's one-year anniversary.

Residents of the rural village of Lineboro, named for its proximity to the Pennsylvania border, view Lazarus Church as a historic anchor of the community. The church traces its origin to 1853, when German Lutheran settlers were building small towns in rural Maryland and Pennsylvania. An original structure was torn down and the Gothic Revival edifice — the building that burned — was built a half-mile from the Pennsylvania border in 1908.

Investigators from the state fire marshal's office were unable to determine the cause of the early-morning blaze, which was called in to 911 by a congregant who lives across the street. Firefighters who dug through the rubble were able to pull out a few things — a chalice, a marriage register from the 1880s that was singed around the edges, and the hand bells.

Kicas said businesses, friends and strangers came forward after the fire, offering a place to hold the food pantry, storage space for the food, and 80 boxes of canned goods — enough for a few months. North East Social Action Program, a charity nonprofit in Carroll County, was a major donor, she said.

Church members started the food bank a year ago after hearing about the need in the community, and the service grew from there. Around 30 people came for food Saturday, about the average number of clients.

"Last month we were praying for more food, and this month were overloaded," Kicas said. "We just feel like it's given us hope, that God sees what we're doing and is providing for us."

Rita Becker, whose mother was an organist at the church for 50 years and whose father mowed around the headstones in the graveyard, offered up the day care center space that she owns for the food pantry. As choir director, she's hoping for a larger choir room when the church is rebuilt.

"After the fire, I was afraid everyone would just scatter, so to keep it local was important," she said, explaining why she offered her space for the event.

Besides handing out food, Becker said, Chamelin has established a rapport with many of the regulars as someone who listens as they pour out their hardships.

Chamelin said the cost of damage to the church has been estimated at about $4 million; the building was insured. The next step is to test the church's walls, which are still standing, to determine if they are safe enough to rebuild around or if they must be torn down, he said.

The congregation has been holding services in the Lineboro volunteer fire company's hall. Chamelin said he's gotten a lot of input from church members on what the new building should look like, and that they may explore adding a soup kitchen to expand the food pantry.

"We don't want to become a generosity sink, where generosity comes into us and doesn't go back out," Chamelin said. "We had to do this. There's no other option."

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