Sunday services at Jasper church destroyed by fire

Less than 48 hours after a fire destroyed their sanctuary,{}the{}ministers and congregation of{}Jasper church moved forward with their regular services.{} Members of First Church of the Nazarene gathered{}Sunday morning inside the gym at their family life center, across the parking lot from the main church building.

Worship pastor Matt Short called the fire devastating.{} Former senior pastor Greg Story called it disheartening.{} But lifelong member Todd Lee said it was not depressing, as the rebuilding allows opportunity for new growth.

Lee's parents were members of First Nazarene before he was born, and he first attended the church at its older location in a different part of town.{}{} He was there when{}the church moved to this sanctuary in 1972, and he looks forward to seeing their next sanctuary.

Lee said this is not a time to be sad.{} The church was already looking at an expansion in January that would have cost between $1.2- and $2-million.{} They had{}an evaluation at the time, which determined an increased property value, and the insurance coverage for it will help them in the rebuild and growth.{} Lee said is an exciting time that will provide more opportunities.

The music for Sunday's service was not what Matt Short originally planned with his wife Alyssa, who plays percussion while he plays piano.{} Fire destroyed most of the percussion equipment in the sanctuary, and damaged{}the church's{}Steinway piano.{} A piano tuner from Tuscaloosa offered his services to restore the instrument.

Fortunately, the church had a second piano at the family life center and there was a cajn, a percussion box which the Shorts first used in a service just a couple of weeks ago.

They were ready to use the backup equipment Sunday, and Short said the musical rewrite forced by Friday's fire was not a cumbersome challenge.

"This service kind of wrote itself.{} I was just singing through some stuff yesterday as we were helping as we were here and we were putting up chairs," Matt Short said.

The music was inspired, and Short hopes it was inspiring for{}the members of the congregation, as well as anyone who hears the story of this church's destruction and coming restoration.

"There is a lot of reference in the bible to rebuilding, to renewing, to bringing people out of the ashes.{} I thought of a phoenix coming out of the rubble of the church to something greater, to something bigger, and more beautiful than before," Short said.

"Today my focus was to point people towards God and towards what he's doing."

Songs included the lyrics, "out of the ashes we rise," "let the church rise from the ashes," and "you make beautiful things out of the dust."

Former pastor Greg Story, who left in June after six and a half years to become the district superintendent for the Church of the Nazarene, returned to preach about the book of Nehemiah and the fire that destroyed the gates of Jerusalem.{} He{}reminded the congregation that God works in all things.

"God works in fires.{} God works in tornadoes.{} God works in hurricanes," Story told the church members.{} He spoke of the Holy Spirit providing them warmth up close.

"Out of the ashes [God]{}will be lifted and magnified.{} Out of that now extinguished blaze{}[God] will ignite a white hot burning fire in the hearts of people, an inferno that will never be extinguished, an eternal fire that will purely warm," he said.

"There is a tremendous spirit among the people.{} I mean, this was not a sad day, it was a day of rejoicing and praise.{} We didn't want to come in and have a lot of stories and crying and we wanted to rise above the ashes."

The service closed with church leaders and the congregation standing together near the temporary pulpit, united in a large embrace.

Fire marshals will inspect the church Monday morning to figure out what started the fire.{} The church's insurance agent said investigators are 98% certain that lightning was the cause, but will confirm that on Monday.

Church leaders hope to have a new building by next fall.