A Church That Burned Becomes a Church on Fire: Opportunities out of ashes
On February 18, 2003, a Tuesday morning, Immanuel Christian Reformed Church of Brampton burned down almost completely. Many of us stood that morning watching the firefighters struggle to control the flames as we struggled to comprehend what was happening. The congregation experienced mixed emotions. Erick and I had been in Brampton for less than a year, so we hadn’t yet become attached to the building; others struggled, knowing that the building had been in need of expansion or revamping to become a more functional space. The building was almost fifty years old—those families who had built and maintained this church for many years were saddened and hurt at the loss of many memories of marriages, baptisms, professions of faith, and times of fellowship.
That being said, our new church logo is a small “i” with a flame as the dot, and our new motto is “The church that burned becoming the church on fire.” We’ve never had as many opportunities to be known to our neighbors in the Brampton area as we have since the fire was reported in the news. After the fire our downtown church became known to many people. As a result of the coverage, donations from complete strangers were not uncommon.
What follows is the outline of the worship service we held on the following Sunday, February 23. We met in our sister church’s building (Second CRC) in the early afternoon. We decided to go ahead with our liturgy planned by Jean Chorostecki, which included a celebration of our Friendship ministry to young people and adults with mental impairments, choir participation, and a baptism! The service was a true celebration of the church as the body of Christ.
More than several times the congregation was struck by the “irony” of how God was speaking to us through those pre-selected songs and readings. The Friendship group sang: “The church is not a building, the church is not a steeple, the church is not a resting-place, the church is a people. I am the church, you are the church, we are the church together.” In fact, the Friendship leader encouraged us all to stand and find a partner and do the actions; this we did with gusto and appreciation for the wonderful fact that, though we had no building, we were still the church of Jesus Christ! (See RW 68, p. 23, for background on the Friendship program, a ministry to share God’s love with people who have mental impairments.)
Singing “Blaze, spirit, blaze” in the chorus of “Shine, Jesus, Shine” brought many smiles and nods as we noticed all the fire and water imagery of the songs that day!
The women’s chorus singing “The Storm Is Passing Over” was especially memorable; the congregation was inspired and moved by God’s message of hope in this song. (I’ve already planned that we should sing that song during the first worship service in our new building . . . whenever that may be.)
It seemed that all the elements of the service were calling us to find hope despite our circumstances, to find God’s hand and leading despite our loss.
Opening Song: “I Will Enter His Gates” SFL 9
Dear God, open our eyes to see where Jesus’ healing love is needed in our world. Open our ears to hear what you are saying to us today. Open our hands to do your work and to help where help is needed. Open our lips to speak words of comfort, joy, and laughter to one another. Open our minds to accept new truths about how you are present in our lives and in our world. Open our hearts to love you, to love our neighbors, and to love ourselves as you have loved us. This we ask in the name of him who greets us . . .
Song of Joy and Praise: “Shine, Jesus, Shine!” SNC 128, SFL 239, TWC 721
Friendship Group Songs
“Beatitudes for Friends and Family” (a response based on Matt. 5)
“O What Fellowship”
“My God Is So Great” SFL 35
“We Are the Church” SFL 236
The Service of Baptism
Choral Anthem: “His Love Is Flowing Like a River”
Prayer for Illumination
Children’s Story (Friendship)
“Jesus Loves Me” (with actions) PsH 571, SFL 61
Scripture: Romans 8:12-17
Song of Response: “We Are One in the Spirit” Celebration Hymnal 429
Closing Litany: “Life in the Spirit”
Spirit of the living God,
as you did on the day of Pentecost,
fall afresh on us and revive us.
Spirit of freedom,
break the bonds of our anxiety.
Spirit of healing,
revive our sometimes broken spirits.
Spirit of power who raised Christ from death,
raise us from despair to hope.
Spirit of life, living in us,
fill our lives with peace.
Spirit of freedom,
help us no longer be slaves to fear.
Guiding Spirit, bear witness with our spirit
that we are children of God.
Spirit of intercession,
at times we are troubled and weak.
Holy Spirit, pray for us in our times of need
when we are unable to pray.
Spirit of the living God, great Comforter, comfort us in time of distress.
Grant us the trust and confidence
that nothing can separate us
from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
—based on Romans 8
Choral Anthem: “The Storm Is Passing Over”
Song of Commitment: “I Have Decided to Follow Jesus” SFL 226, TWC 576
Benediction and Congregational Amen
Passing of the Peace
A few weeks after the fire we were worshiping in the Presbyterian church across the road from our burned building. After the service we made our way to the parking lot beside the burned-out shell. Megaphone in hand, I led us through a brief “graveside service.” The building behind me had been boxed in by hoarding, and so the “dead body” was in a “coffin.” Like many graveside services, tears were shed as we said an official goodbye to an earthly body that carried many memories.
—Erick Schuringa, pastor