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On the Coast: Church Community Works Through Grief At Loss Of Minister

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The congregation of St. Paul’s-by-the-Sea is continuing to heal following the fire that took the life of its pastor in November.
WAMU/Bryan Russo
The congregation of St. Paul’s-by-the-Sea is continuing to heal following the fire that took the life of its pastor in November.

Last November, a homeless man with a history of mental illness doused himself in gasoline, walked into the rectory at St. Paul’s-by-the-Sea Episcopal Church in Ocean City and lit himself on fire.

The blaze damaged the rectory and the church and claimed the life of the homeless man and the church’s beloved pastor, Rev. David Dingwall. The congregation made the decision recently to tear down the now charred and boarded-up rectory. In the interim, members have been worshipping in the church’s parish hall, using folding chairs instead of pews and pop-up tables in lieu of an altar.

The Rev. Mark Cyr has been named the church’s priest in charge. He recently talked with us about what it’s been like to lead a congregation in mourning.

“It was very somber, and people were really not sure of who they were or where they were going. They had lost their leader, and so they were looking for some stability, some sense of direction,” he says.

Cyr says Dingwall’s death has challenged the congregation’s faith, and that the community is still working through its grief.

“In life we have good times and bad times. Tragedy happens to everybody. But something so drastic as having your rectory burn down and your priest die is major. And so it affects people on multiple levels, because a lot of people here were friends of Father David, and he was also their spiritual director. He was the one to whom they turned for guidance and assistance, whether that was friendship or financial assistance. He was always there for them.”

Cyr says coming to St. Paul’s was at first a daunting proposition.

“I took this job with trepidation. It’s a mighty calling to come into such a situation, with people who are very attached to their rector, and are dealing with the tragedy and the loss. And yet…I knew that I could deal with it, that I had the right gifts that God has given me... I knew that this was a special place that I would fit in, and that it would feel good.”

Music: "Sea of Love" by Tom Waits from Brawlers / "By The Sea" by The London Suede from Coming Up

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