Life does not often occur on our timetable, and there is never a good time for strife. However, the greatest trials can often produce the greatest triumphs, and one Heights institution is a living example.
On Sunday, July 9 at 4 p.m., Heights Presbyterian Church will celebrate 114 years in the Houston Heights in conjunction with the re-dedication of its sanctuary following its recovery from an electrical fire by kicking off a year-long campaign called 114 Acts of Service.
On March 26, 2014, a devastating electrical fire destroyed Heights Presbyterian’s beloved educational wing and heavily damaged the church sanctuary, which sustained smoke and water damage, striking an enormous blow to the oldest continuous church in the Heights community.
“It had so much history, and you hate to see it go up like that,” Joe Lamb, a member of Heights Presbyterian for more than 75 years, said of the education building.
“It was still a very emotional moment to see that happening. It’s devastating even though you know that God is in control,” added Suzy Cisne while reminiscing about memories of playing de facto games of hide and seek in the building’s labyrinth of rooms.
As of several months ago, the sanctuary has been completely re-built and is once again the center of Heights Presbyterian’s worship services every Sunday at 11 a.m.
“[God] has brought us through that fire. We’re still here, and we had the opportunity to renovate our sanctuary, which really needed it,” Cisne said.
Additionally, a seeming nuisance might have been what saved the sanctuary from further damage.
“We used to have several firewalls (made of cinderblock), and people would question why we had to keep [those doors] closed,” said Margie Ford, who has been a member since 1980. “Well, if it hadn’t been for those firewalls, we might have lost everything in the sanctuary.”
Blessings from trials
While the fire remains a mind-numbingly painful experience for all, the church’s small – but dedicated — congregation still believes God created people to live life fully with all the joy, grace and love possible, and is good, even when life is challenging. In fact, many said the fulfillment of such a belief has been increasingly evident in the years since the devastating blaze took down a part of the beloved building.
“It’s been a great time of hope for this community, and it’s a feeling they want to share — that God is good. If he can do this with a building, then what can’t he do in our lives?” Rev. Lindsay Hatch said.
“The fire was on a Wednesday, we did not miss a Sunday, even though (as I recall) we didn’t have electricity — we were in our fellowship hall having our worship service. I think it drew us closer together,” Terry Myers added.
A long road
Much like life, however, the rebuilding process did not happen without facing some major decisions. Members spent months and several congregational meetings attempting to assess what made sense to its current congregation and its vision for the future, such as rebuilding and if it even made for Heights Presbyterian to remain in its current dwellings or move on somewhere else.
As it turns out, however, the decision was a simple one.
“We all decided that this community is where we wanted to be, that we could still serve this community,” Cisne said. “We also decided that with the size of the congregation we have, it didn’t make sense to build another wing, and instead put that [money] towards renovating something we hadn’t been able to keep up with for a long time.”
“We’ve put all that insurance money back into the building, because we’ve been here 114 years, and we want to be here another 114 years at least,” Myers added.
Show of thanks
Sunday’s proceedings, however, are about much more than celebrating the church’s recovery. Hatch said the 114 Acts of Service manifested out of thankfulness for the Heights community’s help in the recovery from the fire and to celebrate its 114th anniversary in the Heights by leading and contributing 114 acts of community service over the next year.
“We wanted to show our gratitude to the community for being able to carry on, rise from the ashes and get back on our feet,” she said. “We are grateful and are expressing love and gratitude through service. This is our ‘thank you,’ and [an example that] God is still good and still working in this community.”
Hatch was not alone in echoing such a sentiment.
“We are trying to make an impact in this community so it will come and worship with us and sustain this church,” Myers said. “And even if that doesn’t happen we’ve still got a wonderful facility for maybe some other group to come in and make the sort of impact we want to make.”
As the church and community have taken time to heal, a bevy of emotions has flooded through every member of the congregation, and the July 9 celebration is simply an outward culmination of unwavering faith and a desire to serve and persevere.
“We’re here to serve God, and through the fire, if we can now concentrate on these acts of service to our community, it doesn’t matter if we have an education building there —as long as we can serve God and show the love in Christ here, we’re alright,” Cisne said.