Fire destroyed a New York church just four days after Easter in 2011. On Easter Sunday this year, Mayfield Presbyterian Church members found themselves seated for their first service in a new sanctuary.
The new sanctuary was built and finally occupied after the membership of Mayfield raised the funds to reconstruct a larger and more modern facility to replace the one that burned after being in use since 1823.
Mayfield Presbyterian Church, located at the base of the Adirondack Mountains on Great Sacandaga Lake between Syracuse and Albany, was founded in 1792 as a Dutch Reformed Church that became Presbyterian in the early 1800s.
The 130-member church met in the nearly 190-year-old building until a fire sparked by lightning on April 28, 2011, destroyed the facility. Around 6:30 a.m. on April 28, lightning struck the bell in the steeple, knocking it off its cradle and sending it crashing through the roof of the church.
Once inside the sanctuary, the bell exploded, rapidly igniting the structure and burning it. The building sustained heavy fire and water damage, leaving very little to salvage. As a result, all that was left standing was demolished to make way for new construction.
“It was just overwhelming,” the Rev. Bonnie Orth said as she recalled the fire. “It still is. I can still see it and remember the looks on the faces of people from our congregation whose ancestors helped build the church. The whole community felt the impact of our loss.”
Undaunted by the devastation of losing their building, Orth and members of Mayfield pressed on in their continued service and worship of the Lord. They rented auditorium space at nearby Mayfield High School and met there until their new facility was ready for occupation.
Orth said the fire happened just before members were supposed to engage in their first annual CROP Walk to raise funds to help eliminate hunger around the world. The event is sponsored by Church World Services, and 75 percent of the funds raised through donations are used globally, while 25 percent remains to be used in the local community.
Not even the darkness of losing their place of worship diminished the light of Mayfield’s members as they kept their pledge to walk and raise money.
“I was thrilled they wanted to go ahead with it,” Orth said of the resolve shown by congregants. “They knew it was something needed, and they wanted to go through with it.”
A decision to rebuild at the site of their former facility quickly was reached, Orth said, noting that Presbyterian Disaster Assistance (PDA) provided help to the congregation that was invaluable in moving ahead with plans to continue ministry in Mayfield.
Orth said additional land was purchased to make the new facility bigger than the previous one. Construction started last summer and was completed in late March, just in time for the building to be occupied for Easter.
The single-level facility has 7,444 square feet and includes the sanctuary, and space for a fellowship hall as well as classrooms, a nursery, choir room, conference room, food pantry, kitchen and offices at a price tag of around $1 million.
The congregation initiated a fundraising campaign to meet the costs of the facility, and they were given tremendous assistance from other churches and the surrounding community, from both financial and support avenues.
Orth said the facility is energy-efficient and totally handicapped-accessible, and includes radiant floor heating to accommodate rooms that are much larger than in the previous building.
“It’s bigger and really is a beautiful facility,” Orth said of the new church building. “It’s really unbelievable. It’s still hard for a lot of our members because it’s different from what we had before and were accustomed to. We are so blessed to come out of such a tragedy as we have. God pushes you to move forward, and He walks with you along the way.”
On the two-year anniversary of the fire (April 28, 2013), members of Mayfield Presbyterian Church took part in their annual CROP Walk, again providing a blessing to others in much the same way they have been blessed through construction and occupation of a new place of worship.
Along with the CROP Walk to raise funds to combat hunger, members of Mayfield also wanted to provide support and encouragement to other churches ravaged by such tragic circumstances. They decided they wanted to do something to help Westminster Presbyterian Church in Hattiesburg, Miss. That church suffered significant damage from a tornado that ripped through the town in early February, sending worshippers to an alternate location until repairs can be completed.
Orth said Mayfield had a service of lament and service of blessing for its church and Westminster. Papers salvaged from the fire were placed in the baptistery water at the new church and stirred until they were turned to pulp. Then that pulp was made into rag paper after drying and cut up into smaller pieces. On those pieces of paper were written words of encouragement, passages of Scripture and other blessings by church members, and made into two framed pieces of art. One of them remains at Mayfield; the other will be delivered to Westminster by Orth on May 19 along with a booklet that describes Mayfield’s story of recovery and resurrection. The piece of art is to be passed on to churches that go through such disasters.
“We know what it is like to lament, and we also know what it means to be blessed,” Orth said of the rationale for such an endeavor. “We have been bathed in God’s blessings, and we want to pass those along to our brothers and sisters in Christ. It’s a way to help with the healing process.”
Mayfield Presbyterian Church also has used items recovered from the fire at its long-time structure in and around the new facility. Twenty-foot beams taken out of the former building were constructed into a cross by members of a nearby Amish community, and they joined Mayfield’s membership for an old-fashioned cross-raising ceremony.
The fire destroyed six of the eight stained glass windows in the old building, but members recovered shards of glass from those windows and have put them to use. They were constructed into a mosaic glass top for the communion table, with each member receiving a shard and placing it on the table as they took communion.
“The concept is that you come broken and are made whole at the table,” Orth explained. “It’s another part of the process to help us grieve and heal.”
Occupancy for the new facility actually could have taken place on March 28, but members of the congregation decided that Easter Sunday was more appropriate, further depicting their own resurrection and that of their place of worship after it was destroyed.
“We could have gone in on Maundy Thursday, but it made more sense to us to have our first service on Easter,” Orth said. “You could see the resurrection all around us. Everywhere you looked, you saw it. The opportunity for ministry opened right before our eyes. It was a joyous service.”