Athens Review, Athens, Texas

May 23, 2013

From the ashes, a blessing

Athens Church of the Nazarene nears end of repairs after devastating fire

Jayson Larson
The Athens Review

ATHENS — The Rev. John Micheal Cash has an interesting story to tell about the fire that gutted a majority of Athens Church of the Nazarene late last year.

While the blaze left the main structure of the church building intact, most of the sanctuary was ruined. Light fixtures melted and oozed toward the ground and anything wooden was reduced to soot and ashes, especially around the stage area where the fire began due to an electrical problem.

Yet at the front of the stage, a plastic doll put in a makeshift bed to represent the Baby Jesus was untouched. Not a speck of ash or soot on it, not a drop of water, either — which is hard to believe considering firefighters doused the room thoroughly.

“Is that a story I should be telling? I don’t know,” Cash said with a smile recently. “But I’m going to keep telling it to anyone who will listen.”

Cash — who hopes to have use of the sanctuary again by the end of this month — has a handful of exciting stories stemming from that fire, which  caused tens of thousands of dollars in damage on December 19, 2012.

He doesn’t mind sharing the fact that, with parts of his church still literally smoldering, members still assisted in the Meals of Kindness program run out of Eastern Hills Church of Christ later that day. Or that a planned Christmas caroling trip to the lake went on as scheduled that evening.

In fact, Cash — a self-admitted “silver lining” kind of guy — can point to any number of blessings he saw rise out of a potentially devastating fire. Among those, he says, is the fact the church’s outreach efforts nearly tripled while the building underwent repairs and remodeling. Many of those who spent time volunteering inside the church soon found themselves reaching outside its charred walls.

“It caused us to begin to think about what’s important again,” Cash said. “It’s not about our things, but it’s about relationships. ... Isn’t God good?”

The fire afforded the church an opportunity to make several upgrades that Cash says will help give it a more inviting and warm feel. The church, he says, should be inviting and comfortable. Pews have been replaced with individual chairs, and new tile, wood laminate and carpet have been installed. Cash said he envisions a “coffee stop” near the front entrance, which will be replaced with glass doors. In some spots, cinder block has been covered with wood veneer and sheet rock.

Even through all the changes, traces of the fire can still be found. In the adjacent fellowship hall, where services have been held during the remodeling, a stack of Bibles and song books carry fingerprints smudged by soot. There’s still an ever-so-faint smell of smoke in the air in that part of the building where smoke was carried through the heating vents.

Cash picks one up and looks it over, then expresses some amount of pride that the books survived and are still usable. He says those smudges will serve as a reminder of what the church has been through.

“What the devil meant for harm,” Cash said, “God has turned into something beautiful.”