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Members Vow To Move Forward After Fire Destroys 240-Year-Old Church

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By BEN PENSERGA
The Daily Times of Salisbury

HEBRON, Md. (AP) — As fire ripped through St. Paul’s Episcopal Church off Route 50 in Hebron, Ron Knapp sat against a nearby tree.

Knapp, the pastor of the church, tried to make sense of the 240-year-old church burning Tuesday, while sitting there. Then he saw his wife.

“My wife appeared with my pectoral cross, this wooden one, with this silver corpus that I had been given the day I was ordained 45 years ago,” he said to his congregation Sunday, holding up the cross. “She told me that a firefighter had emerged from the remains with cross dangling from his hands. And I had been looking for this cross for weeks.

“So its miraculous recovery, when everything else, all my vestments, all my other appointments, had been lost, was to me a message directly from Jesus that said loudly, `you have more ministry to do in my name. All is not lost. There will be a new chapter in your ministry. More than this cross will emerge from the ashes.’ “

Less than a week after the historic church burned, its members and those of nearby Episcopal parishes in Wicomico County gathered at St. Paul’s parish hall to continue to do what they do every Sunday: worship God.

The service also served as an unofficial memorial for St. Paul’s, which was constructed in 1773 and had just undergone a makeover with a new roof, shutters and seat cushions for the pews.

So with the congregation sitting at banquet tables and using a sheet music stand as a makeshift pulpit, Knapp talked about the past — and the future.

“We wanted very much for the old historic church to function in new and fresh ways,” Knapp said. “We loved the building and we expected it to last for an even longer time than when we celebrated our 240th anniversary this past fall.”

Knapp said the outpouring of goodwill and prayers from different churches was a sign that the church’s reputation was far-reaching.

“Beyond our members, many people feel a special kinship with that beautiful old structure,” he said. “They were moved by its history or its continuity to the past. We have heard from so many — they and we are still in shock. We expect it all to reappear somehow, but as you can see, it will not.”

The Maryland State Fire Marshal’s Office said late Friday they were still investigating what started the church fire, which caused around $500,00 in damage.

Knapp told his parishioners he was not sure if they will rebuild the church, its blackened ruins still smelling of burnt wood. Still, he knows the building is not all of St. Paul’s church.

“We shared amidst the smoke and the smell, the pain and the grief that 240 years of heritage and presence had gone up in smoke,” he said. “We comforted ourselves with things like, of course the building is not the church, the church is the people of God.”

Members of the congregation such as Elizabeth Smith also had things in perspective Sunday.

“Think of all the prayers in these burned cinders, and God has heard every one of them,” said Smith, one of the oldest participating members of the parish.”

“So much of God’s goodness and love have emerged from what many feel to be tragedy,” he said. “And the sense of love and sharing have been overwhelming. And the desire to bear one another’s burdens, express thanksgiving, over and over, literally shouts of the presence of Christ and his kingdom today.”
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Information from: The Daily Times of Salisbury, Md., http://www.delmarvanow.com/
AP-WF-07-28-14 1734GMT
(Copyright 2013 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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