By Elizabeth Ahlman
At 8:45 a.m. on Saturday, Jan. 17, the Rev. Steve Edge of St. Timothy’s Lutheran Church in Sunderland, England, received a phone call: “Pastor, get down to the church — it’s on fire!”
St. Timothy’s is a member of The Evangelical Lutheran Church of England (ELCE), an LCMS partner church. The congregation — the only ELCE church in northeast England — was founded in October 1954, and its current building was consecrated in 1966.
The church fire was reported by a passing dog-walker, and by the time Edge and his wife arrived, there were fire engines and police cars in the parking lot. In an article for the ELCE publication The British Lutheran, Edge says, “We watched as the firemen finished putting out the fire and vented the building before letting us in, by which time our church was a crime scene!”
Once inside, it was evident that the church hall had been vandalized and then set on fire, according to Edge. Although it appears to be arson, the investigation is ongoing.
As a result of the fire, the congregation faces extensive rebuilding of the church hall as well as cleaning and renovating the sanctuary, which is covered in soot. Items to be cleaned or replaced include the altar, organ, hymnals and paraments.
Edge notes that the damage goes beyond the building. As he shared in an email, “It has been a traumatic time for my congregation here; many of [our people] have worshipped in this building for their whole lives — loved ones baptized, confirmed, married and buried here. There is a lot of pain and confusion here at such pointless vandalism.”
According to current estimates, the congregation may need to be out of the church building for the next three to four months for cleanup and repairs. In the meantime, a local Methodist church has offered its building to St. Timothy’s for worship, and Edge says his congregation is extremely grateful, as well as for the outpouring of support they have received both locally and internationally.
Many LCMS pastors and congregation members have connections to the ELCE through its Westfield House, the church body’s Theological House of Studies in Cambridge. In fact, some LCMS pastors attended Westfield House with Edge. Says friend and fellow alumnus LCMS pastor Rev. Joshua Lowe: “Despite this heart-wrenching loss, Pastor Edge is determined to serve the people of St. Timothy’s and the community of Sunderland faithfully, cheerfully and with a defiant stiff upper lip, which made England what it is today.”
LCMS missionaries serving in the Eurasia region are asking Synod members to please join them in praying for continued healing for the congregation.
Edge says he is confident that his congregation “will weather this storm, as we have others in the past, and will continue to be a beacon of the Gospel in the northeast of England.”
He closed his article for The British Lutheran with these words from John 1:5: “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”
Deaconess Elizabeth Ahlman (firstname.lastname@example.org) is Eurasia communications specialist for the LCMS and is based in Leipzig, Germany.
Posted Feb. 6, 2015