Dear Reach Church,
Last night I was called at 11:30pm and told there was an active fire inside our church. When Melanie and I arrived, we were met by a firefighter who is also a parent of Red Lion students. He prayed with us and directed us to the command center where the Fire Marshall was stationed. There were fire trucks all up and down our entire driveway and firefighters everywhere. We thanked these fantastic men and women who put their lives on the line to keep us safe. Several firefighters were on a lift drilling holes in the steeple in order to release the smoke. The law enforcement officials shared that random pews and several of the window sills in the sanctuary appeared to have been intentionally set on fire and that equipment had been thrown off the balcony to the main floor. The officials stated the obvious---that it was apparent that the fire had been set intentionally. The place where many of us had just sat together for Core Team Training, the place where we worship together, laugh together, cry together, hear the word preached, and commune together was now a crime scene where our church had been egregiously attacked. The Fire Marshall asked that we wait to release the information regarding the origin of the fire until today. Our security infrastructure, including our surveillance equipment, performed exactly as intended.
There is a tremendous amount of water and smoke damage in the sanctuary and throughout other areas of the building. We have been told that the sanctuary will not be useable for several months. Bill Becker, our Operations Manager, and our team, are working with our insurance company (we have an excellent policy) and local contractors to begin the long process of assessing the extensive damage and rebuilding our sanctuary.
I was interviewed by ABC 6 News today (the interview will be broadcast this evening at 5:00pm) and the reporter asked for me to describe the emotions that we are experiencing at this time. I shared that we are going back to the Scriptures and are reminded of Paul’s words to Timothy…that “we have not been given a spirit of fear or of cowardice, but of love, of power, and of self-discipline” (2 Timothy 1:7). That we are reminded of James’ words to the scattered early church that had experienced persecution that we cannot fathom…to “consider it pure joy when we face trials of many kinds because these trials develop perseverance in us and that perseverance must finish its work in us so that we will be complete and lacking nothing” (James 1:2-4). I shared that our mission is three words: Nothing But Jesus, and that we are called to see all of life through the lens of Nothing But Jesus (I Corinthians 2:2). This means that when someone sets themselves up as our enemy and does what this person did to our church building that we are reminded of Jesus’ challenging question in Luke 6:32…”If you only love those who love you, what credit is that to you?” And that Jesus commands us in Matthew 5:44 to “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you”. This means that it is actually freeing to forgive the person who committed this intentional evil and pray for them to encounter Jesus as we have. I told the reporter that the Reach Church is not relegated to a building, but it is a living organism of our precious people…you (I Peter 2:5). I shared how much I love our congregation and how I have no doubt that this will bring us together as never before. I am so sorry that we are facing this evil, but I am convinced that Joseph’s words in Genesis 50:20 are true for us today…“what man meant for evil, God will use for our good”.
You now know essentially what I know about the fire, but more importantly, my hope is that you will turn to the Scriptures and to the lens of Nothing But Jesus as you process what has happened. We are committed to sharing as transparently as possible regarding this incident including the details regarding the motive if the person responsible is caught and that information is disclosed to us.
While the following plans are fluid and subject to change as the situation develops, we still want to bring you into our planning as we move forward as a church family:
- Our 21 Days of Prayer initiative is more important than ever. In some mysterious way, prayer changes things. We are calling every member to pray fervently as the “prayers of the righteous (those found in Christ) are powerful and effective” (James 5:16). One of our elders texted me this, “I have this picture/vision of the people of Reach, circling the entire outside of the church praying victory over this situation”. We are going to do exactly that this Thursday night, from 7:00-7:30pm, socially distanced, in our church parking lot.
2. Our Core Team Training, which has been so encouraging, will continue. Very soon, we will share details on where the training will be held. We are asking that every member participate in this training either in person, or through Zoom. You can catch up on the first two sessions through our website.
3. We will proceed with our election of elders on August 9 by having a “drive in” congregational meeting. You will have an opportunity to complete a secret ballot to affirm these individuals who have stepped forward at such a time as this. We are also working on some plans to call additional Deacons and Deaconesses in the very near future.
4. For obvious reasons, we are going to delay resuming in-person worship services on Sunday mornings at this time, therefore, we are asking you to re-commit to engaging with us through online Sunday morning services. We will be changing the online format, starting this Sunday, to a more intimate setting to be more aligned with the current situation. We will continually re-evaluate our situation but please know we are committed to resuming in-person worship services as soon as possible.
5. In order for us to meet face to face with you, we will be setting up regular gatherings of 10-20 people for you to meet with our elders and staff, with no agenda except mutual fellowship and encouragement (Acts 2:42-46). We will be in contact with you as soon as possible regarding these details.
6. We are working through plans for continued Outdoor Worship and will communicate these details when we are able to. We will not have Outdoor Worship this Sunday night due to the tremendous stress that is on our team related to recovering from the fire.
7. We are so grateful for you continued faithfulness during the COVID-19 pandemic and we trust that will continue as we regroup and eventually relaunch Reach Church. We continue to be at peace as God has provided for us and will continue to provide in the future. However, we still want and need you to be part of what God is doing during this historic time in our church and we are asking you to evaluate your generosity and to set up regular online giving, or to mail in tithe checks, if you are so led (2 Corinthians 9:6-7).
8. While our security apparatus performed exactly as designed, we will be teaming with those in law enforcement and will be expanding security measures as the sanctuary is restored and we move towards re-opening.
At our first Core Team Training, I shared that given the events of 2020, we believe this time in our church’s history is yet another “watershed moment” where God is doing something new among us (Isaiah 43:19). We are definitely being “refined in the fire” and our prayer is that refining will “result in praise, glory and honor as Jesus is revealed to us more and more” (I Peter 1:7). Don’t miss what God is doing! Be part of it. As the Body of Christ, we need you to continue to come alongside us in this spiritual journey (Ephesians 4:16). While we are deeply saddened by what happened last night, we can’t wait to see how God’s plan for Reach Church will continue to unfold!
I love you all very much.
In Christ Alone,