Last week, when the news was focused on tornado destruction and Osama Bin Laden's death, Kingston United Methodist Church was reeling from a fire that destroyed part of its sanctuary on April 30.
But a week after the Rev. John Anderson first noticed the smoke -- as he mowed the parsonage lawn on a Saturday evening -- the pastor stood before his congregation and preached from 2 Timothy: "I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God."
"We are the church of God," Anderson said on Sunday morning, May 8. "We are survivors ... We are part of the fire, and that fire is the Holy Spirit."
Investigators said the fire was caused by the electrical cord on a 50-year-old organ. The fire started at the altar, destroying the ceiling, melting the pew pads and paraments, scorching everything else. The education wing and fellowship hall sustained water and smoke damage. (See photo.)
Kingston UMC has insurance and should be covered for the damage that will require about five months and an estimated $500,000 to $1 million in reconstruction, Anderson said.
In the meantime, the church is meeting across the street at Bethel Presbyterian, which has a long established sisterhood with their neighbors. In 2007-2008, the Presbyterians and United Methodists shared worship while Bethel underwent a one-year construction project.
"This is your building as well as ours," Alferd Rybka said to the United Methodists worshiping in Bethel's fellowship hall on Mother's Day morning. "What's ours is yours."
Rev. Sue Lynn Johnson, Kingston UMC minister of congregational care, encouraged parishioners to be good guests, thankful for the Presbyterians' hospitality. Also attending the May 8 service was Oak Ridge District Superintendent Adam McKee. (See Johnson's photo.)
The United Methodist and Presbyterian congregations already share youth and young adult ministries; the children's choir; some Sunday school classes; Vacation Bible School; Stephen Ministries; Fifth Sundays and holidays. (See children's choir photo.)
"I feel like it's the will of God that churches of different denominations work together and pray together," Anderson said. "We may be different flavors, but we still have so much in common and are on the same team."
Anderson was on the parsonage's front lawn, next door to the church, when he first saw the smoke coming from the back of the building.
"My first thought, when I called 911, was I wanted to be sure that no one was in the building. The Cub Scouts were there in the morning and [Organist Wayne Duggin] was just in there, two hours before, practicing."
He quickly inspected the building and found no one, but when the pastor entered the narthex and approached the sanctuary doors, he stepped back in fear from the imposing heat.
Within minutes, the firefighters arrived. Anderson was surprised when two of them kneeled at the sanctuary doors for a moment before tearing inside.
"I wanted to say, 'Hurry, hurry,'" Anderson said. "But then I thought maybe they were afraid, and then I thought maybe they were praying.
"I am so glad that nobody was hurt," he said. "Those firemen risked their lives."
At the May 8 worship, Anderson said the fire would be "part of our heritage for this time forward" and noted how the salvaged offering plates still smelled of smoke. He lamented the loss of the organ, baptismal font, and other sources of cherished memories. (See photo.)
Yet, church and community members said they found inspiration and encouragement -- not devastation -- in the the pastor's response to the tragedy.
"God works for good in all things, and God will bless us and use this for some good purpose," Anderson told WBIR.
"I'm not at all suprised," Judy Rose told WATE. "I expected our pastor to be right on with it and I didn't realize he would be so relaxed and so at ease with it. But why not? He's got God behind him, you know."
Outside the charred sanctuary, after the worship service at Bethel Presbyterian, Mike Moore remembered how his pastor had said the misfortune would "bring us closer and make us stronger."
"We've had two very good Sundays after the fire -- attempts to make a terrible thing into a good thing -- not only to rebuild the church but to rebuild relationships. We've had a lot of people drift off over the years. Maybe this is an opportunity for us to get beyond the human problems and try to be a little more divine," said Moore, a member at Kingston UMC for 34 years.
"This is a good group of people. John is a good man. It might work out."
(See church photo.)
"Church sanctuary burns," (Roane County News, 5/4/11)
"How God the Great Physician Healed Me," by Rev. John Anderson (Kingston UMC newsletter, 3/23/11 - PDF)