On April 28, 2011, lightning struck the bell of the Mayfield Central Presbyterian Church. The force of the strike shattered the bell and started a fire that destroyed the 188 year-old sanctuary. The building was a total loss, but there are blessings that continue to appear.as we discover treasures that survived. We thank you all for your prayers and ask that they continue as we discern where God is leading us in the future. It was a tragic day. The building is gone but the church continues to thrive! God is Here!
Mayfield Presbyterian Church has deep roots in the small town of Mayfield which is “nestled in the foothills of the Adirondack Mountains” in upstate New York. As one of the earliest churches in the area, it was first organized in 1792 as the Low Dutch Reformed Church. The congregation flourished and held worship services in a small building just south of town. As the numbers of the “flock” increased, a new church was built (about 1825) closer to the center of the town and the church was reorganized under its present name. Our first Presbyterian Minister, Rev. Jeremiah Wood, remained with the church, “doing zealous Christian work” for half a century – until 1876.
As our Mission states, “It is the mission of Mayfield Central Presbyterian Church to unite the people of our congregation and community by providing them with worship, spiritual nurture and sharing the Lord’s gospel and love. Our goal is to serve as disciples being faithful to God.”
The members of this church have been an important part of the day to day life of this community. Many groups have had their monthly meetings at the church and the local “meals on wheels” was held in the building for many years. We house and “man” the local “food pantry” helping to provide food for our neighbors.
On April 28, 2011, our congregation awoke to the news that our beloved church had been struck by lightning and was burning. Though the firefighters in ours and surrounding communities did all they could to save it, our church building was lost. On that day, we realized more than any other day in our history, that the people are the church. In the two years that have passed since the fire, we have continued to be a strong congregation and have not missed a single Sunday worship.
Following the fire, many committees were formed to make decisions regarding our future. With God’s help, the support of our members, friends and many, many others, and the guidance of our Pastor, Rev. Bonnie Orth, we now have a new building in which to worship. On our journey during the past two years, many of our members have come to realize that the fire was an opportunity to have a church that will serve our congregation for at least another 100 years. We found joy in working together to plan and then create a modest country church that is both energy efficient, modern yet comfortable, and meets the needs of our community.
At one point during our journey, we realized that in order to truly begin to heal, we needed to find a way to express our laments. With much planning and a grant from Calvin Institute of Christian Worship, we planned two special worship services. First, we asked our congregation to think about their sadness and laments since the fire. We explained that their laments did not necessarily have to have anything to do with the church or the fire. On September 16, 2012, we held an entire service of lament. We spoke, sang, read and cried out our laments. At one point in the service, everyone wrote their laments anonymously on special white paper. These were read aloud during the service and then torn in pieces and placed in our baptismal font (which at that time was a punch bowl). Each member of the congregation was then invited to come forward to stir the laments with their fingers. As we watched them begin to disintegrate before our very eyes, we were reminded that is exactly what God does with our laments. When we cry out to God, naming our laments, they begin to dissolve.
The next morning, several women gathered to make new paper. Into a blender, we placed the “lament” paper and added things salvaged from our burned church. Pieces of our quilting thread, seeds gathered from the church property, pieces of special bulletins, envelopes that had contained donations toward our re-building from our sister churches, new paper, and a variety of food colorings were mixed together. This mixture was scooped out with screens, pressed to remove as much water as possible, and laid on racks to dry. The resulting “rag paper” was used the following Sunday during our “blessing” service. This time everyone was given a piece of beautiful rag paper and invited to write their blessings since the fire. These were also read aloud.
These two services were very powerful. Tears were shed and God’s presence was definitely felt, crying with us but urging us on to a new journey. For many of our congregation, it was during these services that the real healing began. Suddenly we had “permission” to stop looking back quite so much and to begin to look toward our church’s future.
In the following weeks, the blessings on the “rag paper” were used to create four collage pieces. Again, we added things left from the former church. Flowers, seeds, words from special bulletins add to the visual impact of the collages. The “quilting thread” that has been a big part of keeping us together since the fire was stitched to each piece. The butterfly from the bulletin of our 1st anniversary of the fire was included. The words, “tested by fire, our faith is renewed” can be found. So many meaningful items are part of these collages. The “cross” was made using strips cut from the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship program.
One of the pieces was given to another church in crisis. After research, we reached out to the Westminster Presbyterian Church in Hattiesburg, MS which had been destroyed in a tornado in February of 2012. Pastor Bonnie and her husband delivered the blessing picture to them, complete with a book containing our story and with room for them to add their story. We charged them to keep the piece as long as it brought healing to them and then to find another church in crisis and pass it on to them. Every time the piece changes churches we are sent a post card telling us where it is now.
Today, three of these artworks are displayed on the wall of our new church. Sometimes when people look at them they might ask, “Why don’t we see any of the “laments”?” We assure them that the laments are there – in the paper. But with God’s help, our laments have been turned into blessings. Thanks be to God!
In sharing our “story” and our “blessings collages” we want to give you hope. Hope that what you have lost can be resurrected from the storm. We pray that through God’s grace, you will experience many blessings in your journey. Following the benediction of our weekly worship services we sing these words: “May God’s Blessings Surround You Each Day”. May it be so for you.