Hammock Publishing’s Bill Hudgin’s has spent the first few days of this vacation week with other members of his church in the aftermath of Sunday night’s fire at the historic building of First Presbyterian Church of Gallatin, Tenn. Here is his wrap-up report from the scene:
Monday night, 24 hours after the fire, we held a prayer meeting in the parking lot. My estimate is that more than 100 people came despite falling temps. A bunch of the firefighters came, too – they arrived in their truck which startled all of us at first, thinking yet another hot spot had been found.
The – captain, I guess, I didn’t hear his rank – explained how difficult it was to reach and fight the fire, and apologized for not knocking it down further. No one wanted his apology – he and the crews had saved the building despite considerable personal risk to themselves! We cheered them, as he introduced them individually, like they were NFL stars. There were some light moments, as when the captain said he belongs to the Church of Christ and wasn’t sure about some Presbyterian terminology. Apparently, the Church of Christ doesn’t use the term sanctuary to describe the area where worship is held. They also do not use musical instruments in their worship service, prompting our minister to slip in a jibe,” So that’s why you let our organ burn up?” Everyone roared with much needed laughter, no one louder than the captain himself.
There was good news – the sanctuary floor had been vacuumed dry, the pews were safely in storage and looked like they can be cleaned to good as new, except for a few that will need more work to reverse water damage. The roof and stained glass window are still uncovered but will be shortly. Waterlogged ceiling tiles and insulation are coming down and the drying process has commenced. We have the continued use of the jail trustys to clean up – it struck me, and my wife and others, I am sure, that this is the reverse of the New Testament command to go into the prisons and minister to those incarcerated.
And there was a defining moment, at least for me. Toward the end of the 30 minute service, our pastor, Mickey Shealy, was relating this good news and the process to decide where to meet for the interim. He spoke movingly about the cross on the organ gleaming in the afternoon sun streaming through the roof. As he answered questions about what had been salvaged, I saw a hand rise above the crowd, holding a small, stemmed silver cup. The member holding it pressed forward and Mickey took it. For a moment, he just held it in his hands, and the enormity of what had happened seemed to weigh down on him. Then he shook it off and lifted the cup.
Our communion set – chalice, wine carafe, plates – always sits on a special table in the center of the dais we use for a pulpit. The table, which bears the carved inscription “In Remembrance of Me” was smack dead center where the ceiling fell in. Drenched plaster and lath flattened the table – a TV station showed it being pulled from the rubble – and it dented the communion set, but did not destroy it. This battered cup, hastily shined on someone’s jacket, shone in the floodlights aimed at our gathering. “This season is about hope, and this is about hope,” Mickey told us.
I hope they don’t send the communion set off to be smoothed and restored. The dents are part of our history now, People will tell their children and grandchildren, will welcome new members with the story and show them where the ceiling fell. It’s another of the small miracles we have shared, and will share.