First service held after Thorndike church fire

The burned-out Thorndike Congregational Church was blocked by yellow police tape Thursday. Fire investigators determined that the fire early Wednesday morning was caused by an electrical malfunction.
The burned-out Thorndike Congregational Church was blocked by yellow police tape Thursday. Fire investigators determined that the fire early Wednesday morning was caused by an electrical malfunction.
Posted Jan. 01, 2012, at 6:39 p.m.

THORNDIKE, Maine — The sound of old hymns reverberated around Clyde and Hazel Rumney’s pine-paneled basement recreation room Sunday morning as the members of the Thorndike Congregational Church raised their voices in praise just days after their 103-year-old church burned down.

“We’re thankful that the real church is not lost,” prayed the Rev. Paul Press, who has been minister at the church since June. “It can’t be burned that way. We’re just as close to you here, Father, as we were in the building.”

The wooden church and most of its contents, including nine stained-glass windows, were lost early Wednesday morning in a fire caused by a malfunctioning and overheating electric conductor.

The building was insured, officials said, and members fielded calls offering help and condolences from neighboring churches all week. The New Year’s Day church service — held at the Rumneys’ house and attended by 28 adults and three children — marked the beginning of a long process of rebuilding.

“It’s challenging, but we’re all positive,” said Nancy Kragh of Jackson, a church deacon. “We all want this to happen, to build another church. We’ve got a lot of meetings and a lot of decisions to make.”

In his sermon, Press cautioned his congregation to keep holding together, despite the trials of the fire and the rebuilding process.

“I’ve heard reasons through the years why churches split. Some wanted plush carpets, some didn’t. Some wanted white hymnals and some wanted purple hymnals,” he said. “We need to be swift to hear and slow to speak and slow to take offense.”

Sunshine filtered in through the basement windows as congregants listened, sang, and then came together for coffee and hugs after the service.

Many other churches in the area had offered the use of their space to the small, close-knit Thorndike congregation, but church leaders decided that it would be good to keep worshipping in town, at least initially.

“I think it’s important that we stay in the community,” Press said after the service. “It gives a message to the community that we’re here.”

The congregation had asked longtime member Melvin McCorrison of Greene, an architect, to come and talk about possibilities for rebuilding during a meeting after the service.

Jackie Ludden, who has been a member of the church for 50 years, said that in a way it was sad to be meeting outside of the church for worship.

“It’s painful,” she said. “But our church family is all here, and that’s important.”

She and others said that they hoped to rebuild the church much as it was before. The building had been a replica of a church in England.

“It was beautiful,” she said. “We’re hoping we might be able to salvage pieces. We’ll do our best.”

Arika Williams, 9, of Brooks has been coming to church there with her aunt Julie Coloutti of Thorndike since she was a baby.

“I got a little sad,” she said when she heard about the fire.

Hazel Rumney, the longtime church secretary, showed the few pieces that had been saved from the flames and are being stored in her family’s garage. They include a charred but intact file cabinet, in which are stored a century’s worth of church records.

“They’re fine,” she said, adding that they’re a bit smoky but that’s all.

There’s also a soot-covered copy machine, smoke-damaged choir robes and a desk. All of the salvaged pieces had been kept in a small office. Everything else inside the church, including hymnals and Bibles, was consumed by the flames.

The Sunday morning worshippers used hymnals donated by a church in Swanville. Other churches in Belfast, Montville, Unity and other towns also have offered to help.

“It’s pretty overwhelming right now, but the help is coming from everywhere,” Rumney said.

The next steps for the congregation include making a list of all the offers of help, then beginning the work of getting estimates made. When the church is rebuilt, it will have to adhere to town and state ordinances, she said, which will make the process more complicated and expensive.

“We liked our country church,” she said.

Donations for the rebuilding effort may be sent to the Thorndike Congregational Church Rebuilding Fund, c/o Bangor Savings Bank, 2 Clifford Commons, Unity 04988.

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