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Fire destroys Presbyterian church in Inglewood, Tennessee

Congregation looks to what God has in store for the future

by Rick Jones | Presbyterian News Service

The second fire at Eastminster Presbyterian Church continued to burn throughout the night. (Photo by Gilbert Varela)

The second fire at Eastminster Presbyterian Church continued to burn throughout the night. (Photo by Gilbert Varela)

LOUISVILLE – Fire officials in Inglewood, Tennessee are still trying to determine the exact cause of two separate fires at the Eastminster Presbyterian Church on Sunday. The first fire was extinguished quickly, according to Pastor Gilbert Varela.

“I met with the fire captain and he took me to where they believed the fire started. Most of the damage was just smoke,” he said. “I saw members of our session and congregation and we decided the church needed a good cleaning. It was nothing.”

Two hours later, Varela was called back to the church and this time the damage was much worse.

“I ran back to the church only to find the ceiling and roof completely ablaze,” he said. “It was a very ugly view. It seemed like a bomb had fallen on it. It took the sanctuary completely as well as the second floor of the educational building so it looks like a total loss. All of my books, computers, everything inside is gone. It is a very devastating view.”

Warner Durnell, executive presbyter with the Presbytery of Middle Tennessee, along with other presbytery leaders, arrived at the scene to show support for the church.

“It was an inferno, but the firefighters did a valiant job of keeping the fire contained to the property,” Durnell said. “The winds were blowing, the flames were roaring and they could have easily spread to the trees behind the church or to neighboring properties, but the firefighters were able to contain it.”

Varela says fire officials suspect the fire was caused by electrical problems in the church. Because of the damage and the fragile walls, no one is allowed in the building but investigators.

The aftermath of the fire at Eastminster. (Photo by Gilbert Varela)

The aftermath of the fire at Eastminster. (Photo by Gilbert Varela)

Eastminster has both an English and Spanish speaking congregation of 65 members total. Varela says the members are coping as best they can.

“There is frustration and questions as to how this could happen. But now, we seek what God is saying to us,” he said. “Is this a turning point for our church? If God allowed this kind of tragedy to happen, there must be a very specific purpose. We must learn from and prepare for what God is about to do with us.”

Varela says there are plans to rebuild if possible, but it may be time to consider a change.

“Certainly, we want to rebuild. It may be time to take a new perspective with a friendly, organic worship space,” Varela said. “It’s not going to be like the old one.”

Varela says they are talking with a nearby Presbyterian church about sharing space for the next several months as they determine the next step.

“We are grateful that churches in the presbytery are stepping up and offering their facilities, resources and fiscal help when needed,” said Durnell. “We will walk with Eastminster’s congregation as they try to salvage what they can and help them with the healing process. There is significant grief when a congregation loses its house of worship.”

Varela and Durnell have been talking with Presbyterian Disaster Assistance about long-term support and hope to map out a plan shortly. Varela asks the denomination as a whole to keep Eastminster in prayers. They hope to buy a new computer, sound system and projector to continue their worship services in the months ahead.

“There is no doubt, our congregation will be stronger for it. Their reaction has been amazing, loving, caring, purposeful and hopeful,” said Varela. “Let’s clean ourselves up and keep going. This is not the end of the world. We have gone through tougher things than this and we have survived and will survive this as well.”


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