Editorial: From the Ashes; Lebanon Church Keeps the Faith

  • The First Baptist Church in Lebanon, N.H., is engulfed in flames during a fire that broke out late in the evening on Dec. 28, 2016. Multiple departments were called to the three-alarm blaze. (Valley News - Josh Weinreb) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Friday, January 06, 2017

The First Baptist Church of Lebanon has touched countless lives since it was formed in 1860 and the church built a decade later. Generations of members have marked milestones such as baptisms, weddings and funerals, and everyday moments such as youth group meetings, church breakfasts, community dinners and the like. Members have shared their faith inside its walls, and the passing of many years.

And now, after a fire destroyed the handsome Lebanon landmark last week, church members are inspiring the community at large. Soon after confronting the total destruction of their building, they expressed hope and perspective. “Luckily, no one was in there,’’ Dan Nash, a parishioner who lives nearby, said at the scene even as the flames still burned. “It’s just property.’’ Church moderator Keith Davio later said, “We are trying to figure out how to best use this for God’s will and his plan and to serve the community.” Said Karen Liot Hill, another member, “The Bible is full of a theme of rebirth, and I think, for Baptists, this is another form of rebirth.”

The decision to rebuild came quickly. Davio confirmed that the church had ample insurance, and said that a fundraising campaign would come after members “determine what type of structure we need to suit our current ministry.” Included in that ministry is community outreach: among others things the church has hosted a food pantry and offered a meeting space for 12-step support groups.

Some might desire an exact replica of the Gothic Revival building that stood on School Street, but it may well be that what was practical in 1870 is not best now. In that, there’s the example of the Lebanon United Methodist Church just down the street. After it burned in 1992, it was replaced by a building that has the grace of the original structure but a more contemporary look. Also to be remembered from 1992 is the outpouring of public support — emotional and financial — for rebuilding the Methodist church; we hope people rally again to a local religious community that has experienced great loss.

When a Lebanon man was arrested in connection with the fire, Davio’s reaction revealed something about communities of faith that is often under-recognized. He said, “My first thought was that now we have someone to pray for.” The nature of news coverage is to look for controversy, and stories about religion often involve one group condemning another. But Davio gave a counterexample: concern for all, even the transgressor; and forgiveness, even when the human instinct is to offer anything but.

The members of the First Baptist Church have an opportunity before them to build for a future that may look different from anything the original founders could envision. They have a significant challenge, and in their first reactions to the terrible fire of last week, it seems they are rising to it.