Originally published on Athens Patch on April 22, 2013.
Roughly 70 members of Oconee Street United Methodist Church gathered yesterday in the transformed gymnasium of Young Harris UMC for Sunday service.
“Last week we met in our building on Oconee Street, and today we meet here on Prince Avenue,” said Oconee Street UMC Pastor Lisa Caine in the opening to the service. “Not much remains of our building, but our church is strong.”
Caine noted how in the aftermath of the fire, the church’s large gold cross hanging on the front wall of the sanctuary remains virtually untouched amidst a collapsed roof and charred debris. “The cross still stands, and we still stand,” she said.
The service – the first for Oconee Street since the April 15 blaze – followed an often-emotional children’s Sunday school class. After gathering as a large group and getting a tour of their temporary church home, roughly 20 children listened to a reading the book, “When our Church Building Burned Down.” With child psychologists on hand, the children broke into their separate classes and had the opportunity to ask questions and express their feelings about the fire. Classes ended with the children working on a project that helped them remember their former church building.
“We thought it was important for our children to have this opportunity to get their questions answered and their feelings heard,” said Carla Dennis, children’s education leader.
Continuing to share memories was a challenge Caine gave to the congregation during her sermon. “Those precious memories – instead of holding us back, will serve as the glue to hold us together, and keep us strong,” she said, citing Jeremiah 29 and encouraging members to also “experience the moment” God has given them in the present, while looking positively to the future.
Caine said that although “the moment” has offered many significant challenges, it has also offered several rewards, citing the numerous offers for help, including Young Harris UMC offering its gymnasium and meeting rooms for Oconee Street.
“People we don’t know, from places we have never been are praying for us right now,” she said, adding that the countless offers for service and the numerous donations “are flooding us with hope and solidarity.”
“In each one of these efforts … this is God coming to us,” Caine said. “God will take of us, and will love as much today, as tomorrow and as yesterday.”
Caine encouraged the congregation to continue to seek God as they move forward. “Today we gather here at Oconee Street United Methodist Church — on Prince — alive and moving forward with hope in God for the future that God has planned for us,” she said.
The Rev. Dr. Gary Whetstone, superintendent of the Athens-Elberton district for the North Georgia Conference of the United Methodist Church, helped lead the service with Caine.
“You are absolutely indispensible in detecting the movement of God’s spirit so that you might chart a new course and know which route to take,” he said. “Our prayers are with you as you travel that path.”
Hear Pastor Caine’s sermon by pressing “play” below: