Charles remembers tragedy and a Christmas Eve fire

Charles remembers tragedy and a Christmas Eve fire

The Rev. Charles Lippse, a retired Holston pastor, celebrates Christmas with his daughters (left to right) Jill, Hilda and Gwen.

 Holston friends share scenes from seasons past. Part 5 in a series

Tyner United Methodist Church
Chattanooga, Tenn.

In 1989, while I was pastor at Munsey Memorial, a cold rain began on the afternoon of Christmas Eve. Several of us were preparing the church for worship. It was our biggest night of the year, with two services at 5 p.m. and 11 p.m. The expected total attendance was 1,000 people with an orchestra, full choir and music outside the building. The Rev. Pete Rowlett was to preach.

The rain suddenly turned to ice and snow. We had lit all the candles and prepared the communion elements, but the snow became heavy and the streets were becoming dangerous.

On that night, the old John Sevier Hotel -- converted into a home for the elderly -- caught fire across the street. Sixteen people died in the fire, and instead of having a worship service, the church became a hospital, morgue and first-aid center. The few people who were able to get to the church assisted the injured and the firemen throughout the night.

I went back into the sanctuary around 10 p.m. and realized the candles were still burning.

Since that evening Munsey Memorial United Methodist Church has been more mindful and attentive to the needs of the city than before that time.



See other memories in the series.