A Story of Tragedy, Resolve, and Faith

Chestnut Street UMC

– A Story of Tragedy, Resolve, and Faith –


Monday, February 25, 2019 marks the 60 year anniversary of the day that the Chestnut Street United Methodist Church burned to the ground.  I obviously wasn’t there and perhaps there’s only one of our members who will remember that day.

While I was doing research for the church history page for our  website, I came upon a fund-raising campaign letter that was written in 1959 shortly after the fire.  The letter was written by the Pastor and it was a very moving letter.  Reading the words, I could hear the pain and shock that the whole church must have felt when they awoke the next morning to see their beloved church in ashes.  I don’t have the document in front of me, but I remember some of the Pastor’s words.

Tragedy and Loss

The Pastor wrote – “This was the place where we were married.  This was the place where our children were baptized.  This was the place that held so many of our memories, and this was the place where we gathered, socialized, prayed, and worshipped”.  The Pastor wrote not about the loss of a structure but about the loss of something sacred that held their legacy and hopes.

The Chestnut Street UMC ablaze on Feb 25, 1959

The church that burned had stood for 82 years.  I suppose it would have been easy to give up or merge with another church.  But the members were determined to rebuild.  I was impressed to read their resolve.  The members would rebuild on the same site.  They would go into debt to rebuild.  They would all be asked to give more, and all would have to sacrifice in order to rebuild their church.  One of the church’s Trustees, Leslie Diamond, led much of the reconstruction efforts.

The church we enjoy today is due to God’s calling, the members love of God, and their determined efforts.

Learning from the Faith of Others

When I read the letter, I pondered a couple of questions – “Would my faith and resolve be as strong as those in 1959 to rebuild a church from charred embers?” “Would I be willing to answer God’s call and sacrifice a considerable amount of my time and money to rebuild a church?”

I don’t know the answers.  In 1959, the church benefited from a large membership.  I suppose I will have to wait and see if and what type of circumstance presents itself.

This is one of the things I enjoy about going back and reflecting on historical events.  The burning of a church in 1959, an event that hardly anyone remembers today, may seem like a minor footnote in the history of our community.  But, history is one of our great lesson books.  It teaches and shows us what those who came before us did when they were inspired or challenged with a circumstance or event.  And, it challenges us to think how we would rise up and act if faced with a similar circumstance.

And so, on the 60th anniversary of this tragic event, I thank God and remember those who came before me and rebuilt the church that I worship in.

You can read more about our church history at this page – Our History.

Jim Malley


PS  If you’d like to read more Faith Stories, check out our bi-monthly newsletter called The Connection here at this link – Newsletter.

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