The Seventh-day Adventist community on St. Croix, in the United States Virgin Islands (USVI), was in solidarity with the leaders and members of the Peter’s Rest Adventist church on May 5, 2020, as they watched their state-of-the-art church building consumed by fire.
The building, located at a strategic site in the Peter’s Rest neighborhood, was considered a landmark by many on the island.
Several units from the Virgin Islands Fire Service responded and worked tirelessly to contain the fire, which spread rapidly through the structure. Footage from inside the gutted building revealed that the fire destroyed the entire upper level of the church, including pews, platform furniture, and communication equipment recently acquired to offer virtual ministry. Sections of the massive roof collapsed, taking with it the solar panels the church had recently installed.
“I was broken when I saw the church,” said local church pastor Earl Daniel. “But our God is still in charge, and He is on our side.”
Daniel said that no lives were lost in the fire, and authorities are currently investigating the cause.
The building was built in 1985 and housed the main sanctuary, a media room, a mother’s room, a fellowship hall used for children’s Sabbath school classes, a kitchen, and an office.
Daniel urged many of the members to continue to have faith in the God of hope.
“Ask Him to take care of all of us, and we will see Peter’s Rest church restored to a more magnificent edifice. Keep that in mind, and let us do all we can to rise to the occasion, and let us work together for a finished work,” he said.
North Caribbean Conference president Desmond James said he was shaken to see the structure engulfed in flames when he arrived on the scene.
“It’s one after the other,” he said, referring to catastrophic events the conference has suffered since 2017. James reminded church members that the administration of the conference shares in their pain.
“God is a God of hope, and we [should] look forward to bigger and better things,” James said. He said that church leaders from around the Caribbean Union territory had called to express their regrets and that they keep the congregation in prayer.
Senator Javan James Sr., who is a member of the 33rd Legislature of the USVI as well as a member of the Peter’s Rest church, was on hand to grieve with other members and shook his head in disbelief. “This is a community loss,” he said.
Olson Wallace, a long-standing member of the church, tried to remain positive in his pain. He said, “Our ministry continues. Adventists believe that the church is not the building. It’s the people, and as long as the people are there, the church will continue.”
Another member, Larry Thomas-Lewis, was overwhelmed with emotion as he watched the flames raze the church.
“Only last evening we were at the church preparing for this weekend’s service,” he said. The church had been streaming worship services in March before stay-at-home restrictions were tightened. Then the church had to resort to pre-recording messages at the church for the weekly broadcasts. “We lost a lot of equipment in the fire, but it’s not the equipment — it’s the impact of the ministry that I am most concerned about,” Thomas-Lewis said.
Local church first elder Herman Ravariere said, “It’s hard to stand and see your church go up in flames. By God’s grace, we will keep moving on.”
Peter’s Rest Adventist church currently has more than 400 members. The congregation is among six Adventist congregations on the island.