Rather than grieve the loss of their church building to a fire, Lazarus United Church of Christ and their pastor are looking past their own troubles. The 200 members of the congregation are coming together to give back to the Lineboro, Md., community this Christmas by helping the less fortunate during the season of giving.
A fire on Dec. 3 gutted and destroyed the building that Lazarus UCC, and another congregation that shared the space, called home for more than a century.
The church's surrounding community in Carroll County responded with an outpouring of support, which includes a temporary worship space, donations and food for the congregation’s food pantry. The Lazarus Church Re:Deem Food Pantry was able to open for its monthly distribution on schedule on Dec. 21,in a child development center not far from where the church once stood.
"We want to say thanks to the Lineboro community and the surrounding counties and neighborhoods who have shown us so much love during these difficult times," said the Rev. Sam Chamelin, Lazarus UCC pastor. "Your generosity does not go unnoticed, and we pray that we can reward it to you in full in the days to come."
The Re:Deem Food Pantry began serving the community just a year ago and has grown since. Open to the public on the third Saturday of each month, there were concerns this holiday season about what would happen on Dec. 21 because of the fire. But on the pantry's one-year anniversary, its temporary place was stocked and open for business. About three dozen folks came in for food, which is about the average number of people served.
The contributions to and concern for the future of the pantry are a confirmation of its impact in the tight-knight Lineboro community.
"We’ve never been so stocked with food. We’re seeing the lesson of when you give, how much more people are willing to give to you," Chamelin said. "That reciprocity of giving has just been so extraordinary. We took this risk a year ago not knowing what would happen, and suddenly there is all this generosity coming back to us."
The outpouring of support goes beyond that.
The Lazarus UCC bell choir was scheduled to perform a concert at a retirement village in the area before the fire occurred, and thanks to the donations of some musical instruments, the young choir members performed as scheduled on Dec. 11. The congregation’s bells, chimes, and sheet music were all destroyed in the fire, reduced to singed metal and ash.
Some younger members of the church, part of a 4-H group, helped raise more than $700 to buy wreaths, which they decorated and lay against the tombstones of veterans buried at Lazarus Union Cemetery near Lazarus UCC.
It’s still unclear how the fire began shortly after 4 a.m. on that fateful Dec. 3 morning. In the weeks since, the Sunday worship services of Lazarus UCC have taken place in the Lineboro fire hall. The church is using its Facebook page to keep the members connected with each other and keep spirits up by posting photos and links to its resurgence.
In the immediate aftermath of the fire, Chamelin proclaimed, ‘The building isn’t the church,’ and in the three weeks since the fire, fate has proven him correct. The pastor said the congregation intends to rebuild Lazarus UCC, which was formed 160 years ago in 1853.
The estimated damage to the church structure is about $4 million, and Chamilin told the Baltimore Sun the building is insured. Church members have offered their input on what the new church should look like, and the design could incorporate Lazarus’ still-standing exterior brick walls if they are safe to rebuild around. The new church might also add a soup kitchen as a way to expand the congregation’s food pantry.
"The building now looks like a sign of death," said Chamelin. "But [the food pantry] reminds us that we're alive and well, and can still be a church."