The Fire: This Time

I was at our site this morning, taking photos of some work being done there; stabilizing the façade, removing some of the burnt wood; painting bricks scorched by the fire, so they don’t disintegrate, fall down and hurt someone.

The fire scorched my soul, y’all, broke my heart. If I’m honest, I’m a traumatized Black woman, smoldering in the fires of the COVID-19 pandemic and the hot-mess that is American politics. This week, we reel from yet another school shooting — this one at Oxford High School where our Darren Johnston, the chair of our consistory, graduated. It’s a reminder that this violence is both national and personal: Any of us could find it at our doorstep. I’m crying for those traumatized children. I’m seething at what has been called “COVID-1619” — the unbearably persistent and violent racism deeply woven into the fabric of our nation. I’m singed by the fire that stole our physical sanctuary. But we worship a God who I know will lead us through this tear-stained veil.

While I stood today, weeping, a man from the neighborhood—John—came by and, seeing the scaffolding, said, “The church is coming back; it’s coming back and it’s going to be better than ever.” He said it to me with urgency; he was strumming my pain with compassion, giving me exactly the salve I needed.

Though caring for me, he was wrong. The church is not coming back: It is here.

That scorched earth, that rubble, that twisted metal, that hole in the place our choirs sang; where artists danced and love poured out in food and fellowship—that is not the church. But it is absolutely the sad and awful remains of our building. And God blesses the tears we cry for it.

Come Sunday, we will grieve our loss. We’ll gather at Calvary (21st and Park) at 11:45 a.m. ET. We’ll begin our worship celebration, I’ll preach, “Found in the Fire,” and then we’ll make a pilgrimage down to our site at 50 E 7th Street. We’ll sing, break communion beside a broken building, and leave flowers, pictures and other mementos at the space we called home. We’ll feel all the feelings on this first year anniversary of the fire that changed our lives. And if you join us virtually, you will be with us every step of the way. There is a special prayer time on Zoom at 6:30 a.m. for all of us, and space in Chat and Chew to hear each other’s hearts. (We’ll have hot cocoa and coffee on 7th St., and Rev. Chad Tanaka Pack will be holding space to process grief on Zoom.)

Yep, I’m hurting. But here is the thing, the thing I found in the fire: We are more than any building, our fierce love is too robust, too far reaching, too all-encompassing to be held in a box of any kind. It is in zoom rooms; it is in parks; it is at Intersections, at Calvary, on the streets. We’ve touched lives in Alaska and Paris; in Australia and Ireland; in Harlem, in the Bronx and in DC. We’ve found resources, resilience and resistance in the fire. We’ve found each other in the fire. At times, we found joy.

What else did you find in the fire? Faith? Hope? Sadness? Determination? Tell us, we want to know. And post on socials with the hashtag #FoundInTheFire so the world can see. On this Advent journey, while we wander in the wilderness, on the way to the manger and to Love wrapped in baby flesh—we wander with our God hovering like air. God is in the fire, in the rubble, in our mourning. God is.