Christmas Eve Fire Destroys Baltimore Church
Cherry Hill Congregation vows to rebuild, serve neighbors.
BY MARK A. KELLNER, News Editor
or the second time in its nearly 40 years, a Seventh-day Adventist congregation in south Baltimore, Maryland, expects to build a new church home. This time, however, the project comes in the wake of a devastating Christmas Eve 2008 fire.
The blaze, which began as December 23, 2008 morphed into the 24th, essentially destroyed the Cherry Hill Seventh-day Adventist Church, a 175-member congregation of the regional Allegheny East Conference. No cause for the fire has been determined, but Pastor T. DuWayne Privette, who’s led the congregation for nearly six years, says ministry will continue.
“We will continue our ministry and our evangelistic thrust,” Privette said in a telephone interview. This is “a great time in which the Lord has given us opportunities to be uncomfortable for a spell to get the message out,” he added.
Saying the nearby “community is more aware of our church, now that the church has burned down,” Privette said that “although we don’t have a home, we can minister to other needs in the community.”
The fire, which apparently began on the roof, caused that part of the structure to collapse, and flooding to ensue in the building. In turn, water went downstairs, destroying the basement. Privette estimated damage at between $750,000 and $1,000,000, “not including the content of the building: the pastor’s study, [some] treasury information, music and sound equipment, audio/visual equipment and media equipment.”
Privette said, “We lost everything that was inside the church.” Insurance will cover losses, but he added there were “mixed emotions” for many longtime members, “those that have been attending the church since before the church was built. They helped pay for the church, and donated things for it, and there are sad emotions. They hated to see the church in the state that it is now.”
At the same time, he said of the members, “to a degree, they’re excited, looking forward to a newer and different church. …. A new church will probably meet the needs [of our ministries].” Cherry Hill sponsors a food ministry, works with nearby Arundel Elementary School and with the local ministerial alliance, Privette said.
Undamaged by the fire was a new sign for the front of the church: “We were actually waiting for good weather to have it installed,” Privette said. “That will be postponed until the time we get a new building. It will be good to have a new sign with the new church.”
For now, the congregation will meet in rented spaces while seeking to rebuild. Privette said the process of building a new church could take as long as three years. Meanwhile, he said, the congregation knows things could have been much worse.
“This was not Katrina, this was not a tsunami,” Privette said he told congregants.
“While this may be a tragic event, we did not lose everything. We did not lose our faith, we did not lose our members’ lives, we did not lose our houses. There are a lot of positives. We can turn things around from this little bit and continue to move forward, where we are.”
People interested in learning more about the fire can visit the church’s Web site, Privette said.