I’ve found myself thinking about and crying over the loss off and on since I heard the news and saw the terrible pictures of the fire and it’s aftermath. Bethlehem was a part of my life for only two years. However, they were particularly difficult years for me and the people of that church were so gracious. In May, I was privileged to visit Bethlehem with my family at the end of a camping trip. While there, that feeling of grace and love for the people of Bethlehem United Methodist Church was renewed. I can only imagine how painful the loss of there church building is for them.
While I was there, I took a picture of one of my favorite memories of the church grounds: the adjacent cemetery. During my time as pastor at Bethlehem, I learned that its cemetery was as much a place for the living as it was a place for the dead. On warm spring days the children of the church would dart around the headstones playing tag. At Easter, the people processed into the sanctuary from the graves with the Easter Vigil fire, representing the light of the risen Christ. After the Easter Service, the children searched there for candy eggs. Dinner-on-the-grounds, weather permitting, sometimes spilled over onto the edge of the graveyard.
The people of Bethlehem have experienced a death in the loss of their church building. They will spend an indefinite period of time mourning. But their faith will not leave them dead and lifeless. Death is a part of life. Death is a part of creation. Storms happen. Lightening strikes. Fire burns and destroys. Death comes. I do not believe God caused the fire that burned the Bethlehem church building. I do believe that, now that it’s happened, God wants for the people of Bethlehem United Methodist Church the best of all possibilities. God is with them. They will continue to hurt and to mourn, but they will also experience the power of resurrection. They will know new life.
I don’t know what it will look like. Getting there won’t be easy. But I believe with all my being that the people of Bethlehem United Methodist Church will run, play, eat, and most importantly, experience resurrection among the graves once again.
May they know the fullness of the peace of Christ as they move toward the day of resurrection.