MS. REBECCA SHEIR
So while we're talking about having a place to worship, that very thing has been on the mind of Carl Perez a whole lot lately.
REV. CARL PEREZ
The pulpit used to be right here, a chair there, my chair was right there. And the choir was behind me and the keyboard was there.
Perez is the minister of Adams United Methodist Church, in the small town of Whitesville, on the Eastern Shore of Virginia. His church's sanctuary burned to the ground back in January. Stained-glass windows, furniture, church records, all of them were lost in the blaze. Interestingly enough, the fire happened in a region that's seen a lot of arson in recent months, but this particular fire was not an arson. In any case, Bryan Russo visited the site and talked with Perez about how he and his congregation are keeping the faith after losing a precious piece of their history.
I thought well, it must be something small or maybe just a mistake. By the time I got to the road I could see smoke and I thought, okay, just smoke damage. We can handle that. And then when I got to the front part of the steps and I just saw the flames just come right out and shoot to the roof, it was just one of those weird feelings of just despair.
MR. BRYAN RUSSO
How long did the fire go on and rage through the night?
Well, they did about three hours. I think the first hour they were trying the best that they could. They ran out of water. They went back and got more tanks of water, so there was tankers from five fire stations here, going back and forth. By the end of the time it was over, we had five feet of water stuck in the basement and it was still blazing, so…
Well, I know this church has been here for more than 100 years in this community. You know I'm looking and I'm seeing, you know, charred pews and just the old stained-glass covered in ash and soot. Tell me about just some of the historical and valuable things to this congregation that was lost in this fire.
Well, I think the stained-glasses are old, they are original, 1925. That was a big hit. They were donated, of course, from family members. Some of the family members are still around. The pews, you can still see some of the little brass markers on those.
Who they're given in honor of. The pulpit furniture is the original pulpit furniture from when they got it in 1925, and so that's been very hard for us to look at, especially when the seats are burned and the altar's charred and things like that. That has been kind of hard for us to look at. There are some things that we found that were buried, so we were able to give some of those mementos back to the families that donated them.
Looking around now, I mean, there's obviously the gaping hole that is on the right side towards the road here, what was off to the left here, that is now just charred boards.
Off to the left was what we called a Sunday School room, but we had used it for overflow. We had big funerals, so we would overflow these two windows here that are off on the left-hand side, they would open up and you would be able to sit 20 to 30 people in there. We'd pack them in like sardines, of course, but you fit them in there, they would be able to hear the service and be a part of the congregation. And so that became a room where it was just decorated and people would go in there and sit and talk and have refreshments and things like that.
And you know, we just walked around the building and there's a gigantic gaping hole, almost looks like a plane flew into it. Talk about your feelings now, months later, standing here.
I think it still hurts. I think when you've been in a place that you're used to going to for three years every single Sunday at 9:00, you get to this site and you just revisit the memories, the fun times, Easters, Thanksgivings, Christmas times, you know. And then you look at what you see here and it sort of just creates just--like something's missing, someone's missing. And that someone is the building. People say the church is the people, and that is true, but the people gather in a building. And so that's one of the things that we sort of are missing.
That was Reverend Carl Perez of Adams United Methodist Church in Whitesville, Va., speaking with coastal reporter Bryan Russo. You can see a photo of Reverend Perez and his damaged sanctuary on our website, metroconnection.org.
Up next, taking a leap of faith as a family.
MS. ELAINE FARLEY
All I know is that she was from the Congo, coming out of Morocco and a refugee camp. And that's all I knew.
Plus, going behind the scenes of a play penned by a Tony Award winner and a Jesuit priest.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1
That's what he's trying to point out, is don't look at the Bible for the message of what you're supposed to do, what you're not supposed to do. Look at it from the standpoint of the families in the Bible.
That and more is coming your way on "Metro Connection," on WAMU 88.5.
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