What would you do if your church building burned to the ground today? What would you feel? How might you respond?
For Pastor Mark Melton and the members of Christ Covenant OPC in Sheridan, Indiana this is not a hypothetical question. This past week, on Monday March 19, their church building burned to the ground. This comes less than a month after a similarly devastating fire destroyed the facilities of Covenant Orthodox Presbyterian Church in Wilkinsburg, PA. Two churches have lost their buildings in the Presbytery of Ohio in one month's time!
Pastor Melton reflected on this momentous event in the life of the church in a letter to the members of Christ Covenant. The following paragraphs are excerpts from this letter:
“After the great sorrow of yesterday, I was wondering whether the sun would shine today…and of course it did. I went out to the building early this morning, just walking around and remembering. Oh, the memories our Lord has provided for us in our brief sojourn at that location. What I saw most in my memory was the area behind the building filled with our covenant children. And, frankly, that was one of the most difficult aspects of yesterday—watching many of our precious children weeping as they saw our beautiful building consumed by the flames....
I wanted the Body to be aware that we have people praying for us literally all over the country. The preponderance of my day today has been devoted to answering and returning phone calls and responding to emails. The outpouring of concern from the one, holy, catholic church has been remarkable. Many churches/brothers have been asking what they can do to help and my singular reply at this point is to pray for us—to pray for our Lord’s clear leading and direction, to pray for that wisdom from on high promised us in James 1:5. Our Lord has pushed us out of our nest (where we have grown quite comfortable) and we need now to determine what might be next.
In the sermon delivered this past Lord’s Day (and who knew that it would be our last in that aging friend), I closed by asking, “can we say what Mary said, can we pray what Mary prayed when she was made aware of the potential ridicule and tribulation that awaited her by those would look down their long noses at this young woman bearing an illegitimate child?” You will recall her words—Let it be to me according to your word. I asked then and I will ask now—“Can we say the same whatever circumstances might come our way?” O, precious brothers and sisters, all that I have heard coming from your lips at this point gives me every assurance that answer is a resounding YES!!
I mentioned in my initial email yesterday Job’s wonderfully hopeful words—The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh; blessed be the name of the Lord (Job 1:21). But I was also reminded of Job’s words of response to his wife who was effectively encouraging him to rail against his God for the misfortune that had befallen him. His response is recorded in Job 2:10b—Shall we indeed accept good from God, and shall we not accept adversity? The wise person, the mature person learns to accept the adversities of life as being of equal value (perhaps of even greater value) to the days of prosperity and blessing. What we can say with absolute certainty in the midst of our limited adversity is that we remain a wonderfully blessed people…we remain a wonderfully blessed church.
I would encourage the Body to spend copious amounts of time in prayer in the coming weeks and months as we seek our God’s purposes and plans for us. We have been granted a great privilege, a wonderful opportunity that would likely not have been available to us apart from this “tragedy.” Pray for the leadership of our church as we seek our Lord’s wisdom. Pray that we may follow and not go ahead of His leading. Pray that we might wait patiently upon the Lord and consistently seek his face. In a word, beloved, pray…pray.”
I had the opportunity to visit with Pastor Melton over the phone this week, and was particularly blessed at how he sees God's loving care over His church working through this difficult experience. In fact, the church had been praying for God to send more families to join them, when their auditorium was already at capacity. Now, it looks promising that they will be able to use the gym of the local high school to meet for worship, which will accommodate the growth they have been praying for! Pastor Melton also shared with me how the members of Christ Covenant have always firmly confessed that they do not “go to church” on the Lord's Day, rather, they “go to worship” as the church on the Lord's Day. Though the Lord has taken away the church building, the church continues unscathed by the flames.
Please continue to pray for Christ Covenant Church in the following specific ways:
1. Pray for the Session as they are faced with many important decisions in the coming weeks and months that will have long-term implications for the life of the church.
2. Pray for endurance for the members of Christ Covenant, with the many changes to come. Pray especially for families with young children as they will now have to meet for worship over the next several weeks at 2:30 in the afternoon, during the normal nap time of the young ones.
3. Offer prayers of thanksgiving for the Lord's care and providence over the Sheridan congregation, especially that none were injured in the fire, and it looks like the insurance company will cover the cost of the damages, and pay for rental costs of another facility in the interim.
4. Pray that the Lord would use these circumstances as an opportunity for growth in the faith, life, and membership roll of Christ Covenant Church.
The Lord is certainly good to His people as He works all things for our good, especially when refining us in the fires of adversity (Zechariah 13:9). May we all have the faith to bless the name of the Lord together with our brothers and sisters in Sheridan, when he gives, and when he takes away.
The following pictures of the Christ Covenant church building were provided by Pastor Melton. They show the facilities as they stood before the fire, and also the devastating effects of the blaze.