By April Burkhart
Wednesday, April 17, 2013
ATHENS - Members of Oconee Street United Methodist Church hugged each other with tears in their eyes Tuesday evening as they gathered for a vigil behind Action Ministries and looked across the street at the burned shell of their church.
The historic church caught fire Monday night and burned into the early Tuesday morning hours. All that remains is a pile of rubble and the outer brick walls.
Despite the scene across the street, church pastor Rev. Lisa Caine walked amongst the congregants with a smile on her face as she handed out the Order of Worship and hugs. She thanked people for their condolences and help.
“It seemed today as we met and stood across the street and looked at our church we needed to get together today. We needed to be a family today,” Caine said at the start of the vigil Tuesday. “It is an ending of a sort, but I think it’s also a beginning.”
Caine said she’s been overwhelmed by the affection, support and encouragement the church has received throughout the Athens community and the North Georgia Conference of the United Methodist Church. Among those named during the service were Young Harris Memorial United Methodist Church for offering a space for the members of Oconee Street United Methodist to meet and worship as they rebuild, First Baptist Church for housing Our Daily Bread, Milledge Avenue Baptist Church for helping in various ways since the fire and Oconee Heights Baptist Church, which offered the services of one of its members to take care of smoke and water damage to the building free of charge.
Caine also thanked the Salvation Army, Chapelwood United Methodist Church, Saint Mark United Methodist Church, the North Georgia Clergy Women’s Group and other churches and individuals that have reached out to offer their condolences, including the Food Bank of Northeast Georgia, Nuci’s Space and Interfaith Hospitality Network, and church members who have moved over the years.
The tone of the service was casual as Caine opened it with a few of her thoughts and a brief history of the church followed by an open forum for church members to share their memories.
People held hands and wiped away tears as they heard stories of how people felt the Holy Spirit and the love of Christ upon walking through the doors of Oconee Street church for the first time, of being married in the church and watching their children baptized there.
Among those who shared their memories were children who cried as they told the story of how they were baptized and of loving the music performed during services. One boy started his memories with jokes of how he wasn’t impressed with Oconee Street at first and ended with tears in his eyes as he looked across the street and talked about the fun times he had in the church and how it breaks his heart to leave those memories behind.
“Oconee Street United Methodist Church is down, but not out,” Caine said. “A new building will rise from the ashes of the old, and as attached as we are to the old sanctuary, we know that the church is not a building, but a people. The building may be gone, but the ministry and our mission are alive and well. And we go forward trusting in God’s goodness and the future that awaits us.”
Reprinted with permission from The Athens Banner-Herald. Read the original posting and see photos from the Athens Banner-Herald at http://onlineathens.com/local-news/2013-04-16/church-members-prove-church-body-not-building.