MAYFIELD - One by one, they filed out of the Methodist church toward the end of Sunday's service, each of the 150 parishioners clutching the same 100-yard-long string of pink embroidery thread as they walked across Main Street to the front lawn of their own church, Mayfield Presbyterian, which had been destroyed in a fire three days earlier.
"We are the threads of this church," the Rev. Bonnie Orth said, leading her first Sunday benediction since the disaster, harkening her church's heritage of congregation quilting projects and annual quilt exhibitions.
"These threads holding us together will not break," she added, holding the pink thread tightly between her fingers while finishing her charge to the congregation. "Use these threads to help others. Go out and show God's love to others."
(The Leader-Herald/Bill Pitcher)
With their burned-out building behind them, Mayfield Presbyterian Church members begin Sunday’s CROP hunger walk on Main Street.
Sunday's theme was not of pity or grief, but of endurance and a renewed commitment to serving others - starting with the emotional morning service at the neighboring Methodist church and culminating in the afternoon CROP hunger walk, a communitywide anti-hunger fundraiser.
"We need to be together," said Nancy Frank, a member of the church for 33 years. "We just need to be together and laugh - and cry if we need to. But we need to be together."
Orth, who was in Texas when the church was struck by lightning and burned Thursday morning, flew back just in time for the start of a special prayer service that evening. After 72 hours of helping her church family heal, she stepped to the pulpit Sunday to a round of warm, appreciative applause. Her greeting - "He is risen" - echoed her words from Easter, the congregation's last service across the street.
There were firefighters, police and neighbors to publicly thank, and plenty of news that had to be disseminated - the sanctuary had been deemed a total loss; an insurance adjustor would be coming; committees soon will be formed. But there were concerns for another day, she said. The real focus was on building endurance for the long road ahead and sharing God's love to those outside the church's walls. Coincidentally, Orth said she'd chosen the message a week earlier, before the week's events presented her with tangible illustrations.
"If there has to be tragedy, we're going to make something positive out of it," said Carol Cownie, who organized the church's first CROP hunger walk. CROP stands for Communities Responding to Overcome Poverty, and the walk was organized four months ago when the church's food pantry was thriving. But the shelves are bare today, as the groceries had to be destroyed when the fellowship hall - which was spared from the flames - received smoke and water damage.
While 75 percent of CROP walk funds raised by participants will go to worldwide efforts, the rest will stay in Mayfield, allowing the church to replenish the pantry, Cownie said. Schools and other groups also have offered to help collect food.
John McCullough, the CEO of Church World Service, which administers 1,600 CROP walks worldwide, traveled three hours Sunday to witness Mayfield's effort. He said he was drawn by reports of the group's resiliency in a time of mourning.
"It shows the obligation of us to do something about poverty and hunger, even in circumstances where we have experienced personal loss or are suffering," he said.
As about 75 walkers took to the village streets for the three-mile tour, Mayfield Fire Chief Chris Mraz and other volunteer firefighters emerged from the burned-out church with the largest pieces of the church's bell they'd sifted from the debris. It was the bell, Mraz said, that attracted Thursday's lighting, shattering into about 10 pieces after absorbing a direct hit and helping to ignite the fireball that quickly spread to the roof.
Other artifacts were recently pulled from the debris, including a metal cross - bent but not broken - a brass candle-snuffer used in Sunday's service and a large quilt congregation members made and signed for Orth when she began a sabbatical. The quilt was laid out to dry behind the church. Even little bits of salvage lifted the pastor's heart, she said, as she told her congregation she'd discovered a church member's cross necklace while sifting through burned choir robes.
"With each new memento, there is joy," she said, "joy in finding something we weren't expecting."
Bill Pitcher is the city editor and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.