In 1866, a South African churchman wrote a hymn entitled “The Church’s One Foundation.” Penned during a time of theological controversy, the song acknowledged that the underpinning of the church wasn’t a building or an organization, but Christ himself.
The fifth stanza proclaims, “’Mid toil and tribulation, / and tumult of her war, / she waits the consummation / of peace forevermore. / ‘Till with the vision glorious / her longing eyes are blest, / and the great church victorious / shall be the church at rest.”
That truth received a rather striking illustration in Wakefield, Massachusetts, on Oct. 23.
According to First Baptist Church Wakefield, their church has graced the skyline of this small Massachusetts town for almost 150 years. A congregation that’s part of the American Baptist Churches, FBC Wakefield boasted not only a lengthy history but also a beautiful, 180-foot-tall steeple.
Or at least it did. A seemingly errant lightning strike ended all that.
CBS News reported that Wakefield resident Christian Bruno watch the small tragedy unfold before him. “I saw the lightning strike the steeple, and we saw the smoke, and it just went up in flames fast,” he said.
Soon enough, the whole structure was wreathed in flame. It didn’t end quickly, though.
The blaze began at around 7 p.m. on Oct. 23. There were actually people in the building when the lightning strike happened.
Amazingly, everyone promptly evacuated, and no one was hurt. That was good because once the fire crawled down from the steeple and into the oxygen-rich open space between the structure’s roof and ceiling, its sad fate was secured.
“It really wasn’t showing a lot of fire (initially), but it broke out very shortly after we arrived,” fire chief Michael Sullivan told The Boston Globe. “There was no stopping it.”
The blaze burned throughout the night for hour after hour. At one point, 100 firefighters had gathered to battle it.
Former attendee Susan Auld also stood on the street and watched the church burn. She’d gotten married there in 1995.
“When the windows were all aglow — every stained glass window was aglow — it looked like you were looking into hell,” she said. “It was just an awful, awful sight.”
Perhaps, or maybe the fire reminded watchers that the church is a congregation of believers and not a piece of real estate. How did it do that?
Well, according to KRNV, firefighters discovered a nearly life-sized picture of Jesus amongst the rubble. It wasn’t damaged by fire, water, soot, or smoke.
Wakefield’s historic First Baptist Church was ravaged by fire Tuesday evening. But this painting of Jesus was somehow left unharmed by fire, smoke, or water. https://t.co/5qj2vIA29s pic.twitter.com/9wJF1OjmJn
— The Boston Globe (@BostonGlobe) October 24, 2018
The congregation planned to give the painting to the church’s former pastor. And some seemed to realize the theological importance of the survival of that painting.
“You just try and focus on the fact that the building is just a building,” Amy Burd said. “The building doesn’t hold all the love that happens in there.”
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