Changes are coming to Advent United Methodist Church. Over the next year and a half, the church plans to build a new sanctuary that will connect to its education building. But that wasn’t the original plan. Advent, which sits on a large plot of land on Woodruff Road a little over a mile from Five Forks, was working on a major renovation of its older buildings and construction of a smaller building to connect the sanctuary with the education building.
Then, 10 months ago, a massive fire destroyed the sanctuary.
On Feb. 8, 2017, Pastor Michael Turner watched as firefighters from multiple departments spent hours trying to extinguish flames as they ripped through the roof of the building.
The sanctuary was not in use at the time, due to the ongoing renovation project. Worship services had been moved to a gym on the back of the property, and no one was inside the sanctuary when the fire started.
Turner described the powerful emotions he felt as he stood on the lawn with dozens of church members and neighbors. “Of course, there was the grief of realizing that a space (was gone) that housed so many memories: baptisms, confirmations, weddings, funerals, as well as other powerful experiences with God and each other,” Turner said. “But also there was the gut punch of realizing that the expansion, renovation and building plans that had required so much thought, time and energy were likely going to have to be tossed.”
A large wooden cross was hanging in the front windows of the sanctuary during the fire. Turner and parishioners assumed it would be destroyed, but after the fire, crews cut the cross down to find it had survived mostly unscathed, apart from some char marks.
For Turner, it was symbolic of the Advent UMC community.
Turner said the morning after the fire, a group of volunteers continued its weekly mission of packing backpacks full of food for children in area elementary schools. The church also maintained its partnerships with ministries in Tanzania, Guatemala and Cuba, and its support of families living in houses purchased with Advent’s Christmas Eve offerings.
“From the first flames, our refrain was that the church is not a building,” Turner said. “Our building was destroyed, but our church is stronger than ever, and that was obvious as we reflected on what happened during and immediately after the fire.”
Turner said the Upstate community’s support made a huge difference as well. “Although the words seem inadequate, thank you. The calls, letters, cards, offers for space and monetary donations were all a part of the ways that our community loved us during that time,” he said.
And they intend to pay it forward. Turner said the goal is to continue contributing to the community and making it a better place to live.
The church is now looking ahead. Turner said Advent’s ministry and mission efforts, both global and local, are continuing, though some of them look a little different for the time being. The construction team has said the congregation will be able to celebrate in its new, larger sanctuary building, about a year and a half after the original project’s expected completion date.
Until then, they’ll continue to worship in the gym under the charred cross that serves as a visual reminder of what the church has been through. Turner said they won’t repair it. “We don’t want to refinish it, because we want to remember the origin of our hope in that tough time.”
Pastor: Advent UMC stronger after devastating fire by Elizabeth LaFleur, first appeared in the Greenville News December 25, 2017.