Mason's Chapel UMC loses use of its building due to arson and vandalism, but ministry continues

12/16/2014

Following arson and vandalism to its church building, members and friends of Mason's Chapel UMC in Hazel, Ky., gathered for a "service of healing and hope" on Monday evening, Dec. 15, at Hazel UMC, sister church on the charge. Pictured top left is Rev. Dr. Joe Geary, superintendent of the Paris District where the damaged church is located. Pictured top right is Rev. April Arnold, pastor of Mason's Chapel and Hazel UMCs. Submitted photos

 

Do you have information about this fire?

Anyone with information about this fire is asked to contact the Kentucky State Police at 270-856-3721. Callers may remain anonymous. The public also may send tips by text message to 67283 and remain anonymous.
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Benefit Concert for Mason's Chapel UMC: Saturday, March 21, in Murray, KY: Click here for details.
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Beauty for Ashes: Read March 13 reflection by Rev. April Arnold.
Click here to read and see photos.

By Lane Gardner Camp, Director of Communications, Memphis Conference

Ten days before Christmas the congregation of Mason's Chapel UMC near Hazel, Ky., has lost the use of its building and facilities for an undetermined time due to arson and vandalism.

The damage, discovered Monday morning, Dec. 15, and believed to have been sustained earlier that day or the previous evening, is currently being investigated by the Kentucky State Fire Marshal’s Office, as reported Dec. 16 by the Murray Ledger & Times. Read story here.

Rev. Dr. Joe Geary, superintendent of the Paris District of the Memphis Conference where the church is located, called the event “traumatic” for the congregation, especially at Advent and Christmas.

Geary, who witnessed the damage Monday evening, said the vandalism, fire and smoke damage are being taken “very seriously” by law enforcement. He said the fire was deliberately set in four to five different locations inside the church, but did not consume the building due to a lack of oxygen.

Geary said the fire left an eight-foot wide hole in the floor of the sanctuary. The church’s U.S. and Christian flags also were intentionally set on fire.

"Amazingly enough, we are all doing really well," said Rev. April Arnold on Tuesday afternoon. She is in her first year as the church's part-time local pastor and reports an average worship attendance of 35.

Situated in southeast Calloway County near the Kentucky-Tennessee state line, Mason's Chapel UMC was established in 1879. The existing church structure that was damaged was last remodeled in 1966.

SERVICE OF HEALING AND HOPE

A “service of healing and hope,” which attracted approximately 60 laity and clergy from the Paris and Paducah Districts, was held at 7 p.m. Monday night approximately three miles away at Hazel UMC, also served by Rev. Arnold.

“Shocked” is how Geary, who also currently serves as interim director of the Memphis Conference Connectional Ministries office, described members of the congregation Monday evening.

The service could not be held on the Mason's Chapel UMC property, even in its enclosed wooden pavilion (with heat and lights) which is separate from the main church building and was not damaged, because the entire church property was declared a crime scene by investigators, explained Geary.

Early on Monday after learning about the fire and before traveling to Hazel, Geary said, “We just want to be present and helpful. We want Mason's Chapel to know we are the connection and we won’t forget them.”

Commenting on the Monday evening service, Arnold said, "It was such a blessing to be supported and loved. We needed to be together in a worship setting."

The service opened with the singing of “Amazing Grace” and closed with the singing of “Let There Be Peace on Earth.”

Between songs Geary said he updated those in attendance about the situation and shared a message from Genesis 50 in which Joseph says in verse 20 (NIV) “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.”

STORY WITHIN THE STORY

Calling it "the story within the story,” Geary told how Mason's Chapel UMC didn’t cancel ministry in the face of this setback.

Working with Paris District leadership to become a more mission-minded congregation to unchurched people, the congregation started a Monday evening ministry in November called Manna Mondays that serves area children and youth. Attendance has been as high as 25 one Monday night.

Arnold said the weekly ministry was ignited when a 10-year-old girl who lives in the area visited the church and said she had never been to church.

"That blew our minds," said Arnold.

After much talk and prayer, Manna Mondays was started to provide a weekly meal and age-appropriate curriculum for three groups: preschool and early elementary children, elementary children and teenagers.

The word "manna" is about feeding the children and teens with physical and spiritual food.

Thanks to the “great faith and determination” of this congregation, Geary told how Manna Mondays was not canceled this week due to the fire, but simply relocated to Hazel UMC, the sister church on the charge offering hospitality to another church in need.

“The Manna Mondays children and youth came, were fed and had their 6 p.m. program – without hitch or glitch,” said Geary.

“More than buildings, the church is the body of Christ when it is in ministry,” he added.

MOVING FORWARD

Arnold said the congregation hopes to be able to worship in its pavilion while the church building undergoes repairs, but they won't have access to that separate structure until the investigation is completed.

During the Monday evening worship service, Geary presented a check for $5,000 to Mason's Chapel UMC’s treasurer, Joe Cauthen, for the church’s emergency expenses in the aftermath of the fire and until insurance claims are settled.
 
The funds came from the Paris District Church Extension Apportionment Fund for which Geary expressed appreciation.
 
“Because we are a connectional church, we are really one church in many locations. When one of us rejoices, we all rejoice. When one of us suffers, we all suffer.”

Reflecting on what has happened at Mason's Chapel UMC, Arnold said, "The church is not a building. The people of Mason's Chapel know that. This is an opportunity to be a witness. I can't imagine all the good that will come from this."

Any church or individual that would like to help Mason's Chapel UMC with additional emergency operating funds or other needs may contact the Paris District office at 731-642-9215 or mail financial gifts (marked “rebuilding of Mason's Chapel UMC”) to the following address:
 
Mason's Chapel UMC
c/o Joe Cauthen, Treasurer
893 Beechy Rd.
New Concord, KY 42076
 
Rev. Arnold may be contacted at aprilarnold7@yahoo.com.