Remembering the Central Church Fire (1996) and rejoicing on Christmas Eve (2016)

Twenty years ago tomorrow (December 23, 1996) is a day that many at Flint Central will always remember. Not for a Christmas Eve Eve (the day before Christmas Eve) service or for impressive feats of strength or the airing of grievances for Festivus (Seinfeld reference) but it’s a memorable day because a fire swept through Central Church. The inferno destroyed nearly the entire structure.  Only the Chenoweth Family Center was spared.  People who have been around for the last twenty years know exactly where they were when they heard the news that Central Church was on fire.

The exact cause of the fire was never determined.  It was probably some electrical snafu somewhere.  Following the fire, the decision was made to rebuild on the same location.  Carmen Ainsworth School District allowed the church to use its auditorium for Sunday morning services and South Flint Church of the Nazarene opened its doors to Central Church for its Sunday Night service. The church rose again from the ashes and on April 18, 1999 they dedicated the new facility.

In 1996 many thought that the fire would destroy Central Church and she would never recover, but God had other plans.  In the twenty years since the fire, the church not only rebuilt but is stronger than ever. Central Church reaches into the community and around the world in great and wonderful ways.  Countless people have come to the Lord through the ministries of Central Church in the last twenty years mostly led by former pastors Rev. Gavin Raath and Dr. Glen Gardner.

The fire in 1996 was horrible.  Still it’s a good to remember that fateful day as we step through the sanctuary doors on Saturday night for the Christmas Eve Candlelight Service. The glow of 1500 lit candles while singing Silent Night twenty years and one day removed from the fire reminds us that Jesus is the Light of the World and His plans overcome anything this old world might throw at us. Life might give us unexpected circumstances (no one thought the church would burn down), but God is still in control. His Light still shines. He overcomes!

There are so many people that need a similar reminder this Christmas. Many people are lonely and have been beaten down by life.  2016 has been a rough year for a lot of people.  Hope is needed and Hope is what Jesus offers!  Can I encourage you to invite your family, friends and neighbors to join you on Saturday Night (or for Sunday’s Christmas Day Service or, better yet, invite them to both services!)  The services (while different in content) will proclaim the message that the Light of the World has come; Jesus overcomes; and with Him we can overcome our troubles too!

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