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Fourth Sunday After the Epiphany (Year C) – February 3, 2019
It was on a frigid night in late-February of 2019 when the fire ignited that would almost entirely burn Reveille United Methodist Church in Richmond, Virginia to the ground. The enormous fire started in the heating system and quickly spread through all three worship spaces and the education wing. By the time the first responders arrived, the building was engulfed in what would later be described as the largest church fire in Richmond’s history, perhaps one of the most significant fires in the area since the city burned near the end of the Civil War.
The fire was so profound and burned at such a high temperature that news crews were forced to stand on the opposite side of Cary Street, which was closed for a mile in both directions. Fire Companies were called from Richmond, Henrico, Chesterfield, and Hanover. Yet by the light of day, it was evident just how devastating the fire had been, and just how little there was left. The sanctuary windows, including the stained glass nativity window, were all gone, blown out when the roof collapsed.
The organ pipes were twisted, melted in the intense heat, the bellows filled with soot. In a desperate attempt to stop the fire from spreading to Malvern Manor next door, the fire companies had to pull their engines through the historic boxwoods so that they could set up their defenses in the Reveille Garden. The water dripping from the ceiling of the chapel was already beginning to freeze into icicles as a morning breeze blew through what was once the the tall windows that filled the worship space with natural light.
For most of its history, Reveille United Methodist Church had been breathtakingly beautiful. Yet now it stood in ruins, a husk of its former self surrounded by early morning frost and a mile of yellow police tape, the elegant signature brickwork in a pattern of Flemish bond covered in scorch marks and soot. They would call it a miracle that somehow no one was killed or injured.