We are the church
“I have to tell you something sad — nobody died or anything, but…”
I woke up to my mom’s broken voice and I could tell she was on the verge of tears. My eyes still closed, I held my breath, waiting for the rest of the sentence. Worst case scenarios were running through my head.
“Our church burned down last night.”
“What do you mean our church burned down?”
Oconee Street United Methodist Church burned the night of April 15. Although church members were devastated by the loss, they will recover with the support of each other and the Athens community.
It was incomprehensible. It was my church. My church wasn’t supposed to burn.
On the night of April 15, Oconee Street United Methodist Church caught fire. OSUMC has been my church for the past 13 years. It’s always been a constant in my life. Each Sunday morning I would walk through the doors and would never fail to be greeted by a smiling face.
Although I had heard my mom clearly articulate what had happened I couldn’t process the words.
Even after seeing the pictures posted on onlineathens.com, it still didn’t seem real. It was unfathomable that these pictures of bursting flames were pictures of the very same church I had just been in on Sunday.
As cliché as it sounds, I kept waiting to wake up. I kept holding onto the hope that this was all a nightmare. I wanted so desperately to return to a reality in which my church hadn’t caught fire.
“I know the church isn’t really the building,” my mom continued, no longer trying to hold back her tears. “It’s the people inside of it, but my heart still hurts.”
Even though no one had died, it still felt like a death.
I knew that my church is the people within the building, and not the building itself, but I still couldn’t help feeling overcome by a deep and enveloping sadness.
For comfort, I found myself humming the refrain of a familiar hymn throughout the day: “I am the church. You are the church. We are the church together.”
Although our building will no longer be the same, our church is still standing strong.
Because the church is Casey and Chandler, carefully lighting the candles on the altar, bringing the metaphorical light of the world into and out of the church as they acolyte. They did this in the acolyte robes that had been salvaged the Sunday after the fire, as we met in the recreational space of Young Harris church.
The church is Sam, who incessantly complained each week he had to wear those same acolyte robes, that he looked like a girl.
The church is Ms. Maxine, our choir director and pianist, who never fails to amaze the congregation when she leads our small choir to sound as if there were twice as many people standing in the choir loft.
The church is Leland, who knows anything and everything about the Methodist church and is always so enthusiastic when it’s his week to be the liturgist.
The church is Mr. Joe, my Sunday school teacher, who continues to make us laugh though we are no longer meeting in our usual room.
The church is Pastor Lisa who always smiles as she walks down the aisle to the pulpit.
These are the things that make up a church.
These things were not lost in the fire.
And that is why, even though we will grieve the loss of a building in which more than 100 years of memories were made, we will recover. We will be even stronger than we were before.
We are the church together.
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