The Steeple Burned Down, but the Church is Fine! (12/01/03)

Posted by on Dec 16, 2018 in ChurchHistory, Friends & Fellowship, Godprints | 0 comments

December 1 2003  is an anniversary that people in our church and people in Pitman will always remember.  Fifteen years ago, there was a major fire in our downtown.  It was at the corner of Broadway and Holly.  As we huddled around the police scanners, talked on the phone, and watched the news, the facts of this event slowly rolled out.  Four buildings bear the address of “at the corner of Broadway and Holly”, and somehow we hoped it wasn’t our building.  But as the facts came out, it was clear that our church building had been destroyed.

Steeple cross atop our old church building days after the fire (Dec. 2013)

For many of us, we had grown up with that building playing a major part in our lives.  Some of us had been cared for in the nursery.  Some collected attendance pins and were given Bibles as we advanced through the Sunday School.  Others have fond memories of the times spent on the 3rd floor during youth group activities.  Many of us were baptized, confirmed, or married at that altar. Inspiring words and music that came from that pulpit and choir loft still inform and strengthen our faith.

The church building had become part of our lives.  But on December 1,2003 the building was gone, and 15 years later we look back at what was… and what is. 




The Event- Monday December 1, 2003

Officially, it was an “electrical fire.”  The rear of the sanctuary was illuminated by a large cross backlit with florescent lights.  Somehow, the wiring feeding the outlet into which this cross was plugged shorted out.  The flames drafted through the wall, reached the attic, and then the roof became engulfed in flame.

Was it an Angel? Or, was it just a coincidental gathering of smoke and fire?

Regardless of how or whether the flames showed the presence of an angel, we know that God was with us that night.  The below picture got a lot of attention in the aftermath of the fire.  People still search this website for the “Angel in the fire”. 

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.  Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. “

Jeremiah 29:11-14

God was guarding and protecting us all the time.  Whether the formation over the building was an actual angel or if it was simply a cloud of smoke, God was clearly there.  Miracles abounded. 

  • Buildings only feet away were not damaged, thanks to the efforts of the Fire Departments on the scene. 
  • It was a Monday night, and the scouts would normally be in the building.  But because of a Christmas party, they weren’t there.  One scout forgot about the party,  arrived at the building shortly after the fire started and called the Fire Department.  His quick action probably helped save the surrounding buildings.
  • A couple of years before the fire, Rev. Lanie Price was appointed as our pastor.  Just before coming to Pitman, Rev. Price had served as a missionary in Africa through some very tumultuous times.  She know what it was like to be in the middle of a civil war and terrorist attacks.  She had the stamina and organizational skills needed to guide us through the fire and rebuilding.  It was clear that God brought her into our lives for this purpose.


Before and After

Before– There were good words of Benediction and worship in a warm community. 
After–           The icy hymnals are there, but the people are not.


Before– The Choir celebrates Pentecost Sunday.   
After–           Icicles cling to the ceiling, but the loft is empty.


After the Israelites left Egypt, they traveled for forty years through the desert to their new homeland.  Along the way, they carried a reminder of their (and our) permanent home in heaven.  The Tabernacle was a tent containing a replica of the temple that would eventually be built, and it was temporary. 

In a similar way, as we constructed a new building, we “tabernacled” by meeting in the Middle School and then in a renovated Hardware store (which we called the “WE Center- “Worship and Education Center”).


In a sense, everything is temporary.  But we did need a new home that we could live in.  The temporary accommodations of a school, theater, and downtown storefront had their limitations.  We needed a building of our own.  And so while we lived in the temporary dwellings, we constructed the building which we now call home.


Today and Beyond…

Fifteen years ago, we gathered in the parking lot across the street and watched as our building burned down.  We were sad, stunned, and dismayed.  A reporter spotted our pastor, Rev. Lanie Price, and asked for her feelings- what are you feeling as you watch everything you’ve worked for go up in smoke.  How do you feel now that your church is gone?

Filled with emotion- both at what was happening at at what was being asked, Rev. Price motioned to the people gathered behind her and said that the church is standing behind me; they’re alive and well, even if our building is burning.

“The church is not burning down, a church building is burning down. The church is standing here with me. The church is not a building, but the people.”

Rev. Dr. Lanie Price


But on November 22 2006, we gathered in a different parking lot (the Heritages, which is across the street from our “new” building).  Instead of watching our building burn down; instead of watching the steeple cross become tarnished with black soot, we watched as a new cross was lifted to the top of a new building.


The Church Isn’t a Building

We do a lot of activities within our building.  People identify Pitman UMC as the big building on the corner of Lambs Road and Broadway.  Our “church building” is an important resource that the “Church” uses to glorify God.  It’s a building that allows us to provide a nurturing preschool, help people dealing with addictions, comfort people who have lost loved ones.  It’s a sacred place where we study the Bible, and worship, and pray.  It’s a fun place where we eat dinners, play games, and watch movies. 

Old steeple cross during groundbreaking parade on December 4, 2005

But the roof and walls don’t cause all of that to happen.  As we’ve see throughout our “tabernacling periods”, the church is the people.  The church building is a tool.  Many of the same people who were part of the church family on Broadway and Holly are still part of the family that meets on Broadway and Lambs.  Children who were baptized at Broadway and Holly are now leaders of the church that meets at Broadway and Lambs.  People who joined the church when we met at the WE Center are serving with people who joined in the building that meets at Broadway and Lambs.

What binds us together isn’t the building.  God has joined us together through our needs, our talents, and (most importantly) our love; love for God which flows out in love for others.  And so as we remember what happened to our building 15 years ago, we continue to move on.  We continue to worship, nurture and serve.  We continue to be driven by the God who “has plans to prosper… plans for a future with hope.”

Here’s a picture of our building…

Pitman United Methodist Church (Broadway & Lambs Rd.)

Here’s a picture of our church…


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To read more about our church’s history, try this button:  History  


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