“Even though you intended to do harm to me, God intended it for good…” – Genesis 50:20a
In May 2016, someone started a fire at First Congregational UCC in Vancouver, Washington, rendering our sanctuary temporarily unusable. Over the summer the congregation gathered each Sunday in the sunny social hall of a local synagogue with a view of Mount St. Helens out of the floor-to-ceiling windows.
When Mount St. Helens blew in 1980, the volcano left a thick carpet of ash that covered the surrounding countryside for miles, decimating the woodlands, meadows and rivers. Experts figured it would be years or even decades before anything grew there. But almost immediately, green shoots started coming up through the ash. By the summer following the eruption, a whole new ecosystem began to grow, including plants and insects that no one had ever seen in this area before.
Whoever set the fire in our building figured it would scare us, or inconvenience us, or even stop us. They intended harm for us, but God has already worked it for good.
Watered by the outpouring of prayers, gifts and even a visit from another church (shout out to Greendale United Church of Christ of Greendale, Wisconsin!) and warmed by the sunshine of the Spirit, new life started poking up out of the ash of the church fire almost immediately. There isn’t just one example of this, although I have been searching for one as I write this. Instead the new life is like a carpet of mountain flowers – sort of familiar, but unexpected too, and sprouting up in every direction, as far as the eye can see.
Holy God, Thank you for the good you work from the most unlikely circumstances. And thank you for the covenant that binds our churches in care with one another. Amen.
Jennifer Brownell is the Pastor of First Congregational Church of Vancouver, Washington, and the author of Swim, Ride, Run, Breathe: How I Lost a Triathlon and Caught My Breath, her inspiring memoir.