Tuesday, June 10, 2008


The church building of Erwin (Tenn.) Church of the Brethren has been destroyed in a fire after lightning hit the steeple yesterday evening, June 9.

The same severe storm also passed through Bristol, Tenn., where First Church of the Brethren was hit by lightning but the fire there was contained in the steeple area and did not spread throughout the building.

Southeastern District has called for prayer for both congregations. "We appreciate the prayers. Everyone is just so thankful that no one was hurt," said district co-executive minister Martha Roudebush. Southeastern District is starting a fund to aid the two churches, she said.

Roudebush received phone calls about the two fires at almost the same time. "You can’t comprehend it, the fact that it was the same storm, and two churches in the district," she said. "It was just an emotional time."

"The roof exploded with fire" at the Erwin Church, Roudebush said, describing it as an older building with a steep roof. "The fire traveled so fast through the building," she said. However, First Church in Bristol fared much better. There the congregation will have to fix the steeple and a hole in the roof, but the rest of the building received only smoke and water damage.

Both congregations will be able to worship in their fellowship halls while the sanctuary is repaired, in the case of the Bristol church, or rebuilt in the case of the Erwin church. Both congregations are small, with around 25 to 50 in regular attendance, Roudebush said. First Church of the Brethren in Bristol is pastored by Michael Carmody. Erwin Church of the Brethren currently is being served by Phil Graeber, a retired minister who is preaching there part-time.

According to a report by NewsChannel 11 (WJHL) of Johnson City, Tenn., church members were among those from the town of Erwin who gathered to watch firefighters try unsuccessfully to save their 50-year-old church. Firefighters did succeed in saving the fellowship hall building next to the church.

Dramatic video of the Erwin Church fire has been posted by NewsChannel 11, go to http://www.tricities.com/tri/news/local/article/lightning_sparks_fire_destroys_erwin_church/10537/ to view it online.

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