Texas Fires Claim Church but Parishioners Press Forward

The fires raging through Texas, Oklahoma, and New Mexico have claimed several lives and destroyed hundreds of homes in the last month with chances of more to follow. However, parishioners of one burned down church in Texas thanked God for allowing them to continue to worship and move on even without a building.

The First United Methodist Church building, situated in Cross Plains, a town of just over 1,000 people in central Texas is now a charred heap after being devastated on Dec. 27. On New Year’s Day, however, its 165 congregants, both parishioners and members of a delegation of the denomination’s Central Texas Annual Conference were holding Sunday service in its parking lot.

“When I look at it now, I see nothing but devastation, but I know we’re going to rebuild and be stronger than we’ve ever been before,” said Melanie Long, nearly in tears, according to the United Methodist News Service. It was the church she and her husband were married in 12 years ago.

Scores of blazes have scorched over 300,000 acres of land in various separate locations across two states. On Thursday, Texas Governor Rick Perry toured the city, among the hardest hit in the state. In Cross Plains alone, two elderly women died, trapped in their homes and 116 homes were also destroyed. The governor believes the town will qualify for federal and private relief funds.

First Church was insured, however. The United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) has helped the community’s relief efforts by sending $10,000 to disaster coordinators.

The church members had fond memories of the building where numerous weddings, baptism and funerals took place. They still plan to hold the Church’s 120th anniversary there in October. In the meantime, they have permission to hold services at First Presbyterian Church nearby.

The Rev. James Senkel, the church’s pastor believes that God can work even through the fires. During an interview about the disaster with the national media, he said he had the chance to “spread the Gospel” to the millions watching.

“Burning down this whole town is worth it if one person who heard me spends an eternity in heaven rather than in hell,” Senkel, he told the United Methodist News Service.

The Rev. Shelley Brooks, a superintendent of the Brownwood District that includes Cross Plains, said that UMCOR’s coordinators would work closely to generate a specific plan and budget for any additional funds that may be needed to help the community recover, UMNS reported.

Donations for community relief can be made out to UMCOR, designated for Advance #901670, "Domestic Disaster - Cross Plains," and placed in church offering plates or sent directly to UMCOR at P.O. Box 9068, New York, NY 10087-9068. Credit-card contributions can be made by calling (800) 554-8583.