Fire in a Church: Conclusion

FINAL INSTALLMENT (You can read fire in a Church part one here and Fire in a Church part two here.)

Six weeks ago, I found myself at the back of a church with a man I didn’t know. Within seconds I realized he had set the church sanctuary on fire, before traveling along the ambulatory to the hallway near me. When I encountered him in the hall, he had two lighters in his hands and he was surrounded by smoke, but it didn’t wholly register at the time.

A distant smoke alarm and the smell of smoke drew me out into the hallway; however, adrenaline sent me running for safety. 

That man is the suspect in the St. Paul’s UMC fire. The sanctuary of the church is beyond repair. They estimate close to two years to rebuild it.

Aerial view of fire damage, St. Paul’s UMC

Lifted Spirits has been serving vulnerable clients from rented rooms at the back of the church. Although those rooms didn’t sustain fire damage, they are now closed due to smoke, asbestos, and lead contamination. The building is without power as well.

Doors and windows are covered in plastic with warning signs

Asbestos can’t be easily washed out of clothes, and professional remediation costs are prohibitive.

Our entire inventory is gone.

My dear friends, along with other supporters in the community, rallied quickly. As a result, we’ve received donations of men’s and women’s t-shirts, some shorts, and new socks, underwear, and hygiene items. Friends have also donated gift cards and cash so we can purchase items as needed.

Racks of donated clothing, color-coded hangers by size

Before the fire, I had set up canopies and washable rugs and tables in the outdoor serving area. This area provides a shady place to sit and relax. In addition, I’ve started serving lemonade and scones, a welcome treat for people coming in off the streets. 

Canopies provide some shade and respite

I rented a portable storage unit (PODS or Portable on demand Storage), bought some shelves and plastic bins. The POD provides 128 square feet of surface space and vertical space from shelves. We were operating with 1,900 square feet indoors.

POD: Week one
POD: Week four

I’ve been emptying a shed to allow us some extra storage. We donated fifty like-new chairs since it would cost more to store them long-term than to replace them. It feels good to pass them on to another non-profit. One of our board members agreed to keep the Christmas items, and we offered the remaining contents to those in need.

Lifted Spirits has weathered many storms in the four-plus years of my tenure. First, I started volunteering in the clothing boutique and eventually became the lead volunteer. Then, I spent three years as Board Vice-chair and poured my heart and soul into every aspect of our programs. 

The church that started Lifted Spirits sold the property out from under us. Then the pandemic hit, stopping the respite portion of our program. Finally, last year, the new developer gave us four months to move, and we landed at St. Paul’s UMC in the eleventh hour. Then eight months to the day, the sanctuary went up in flames, and we find ourselves renting a fenced parking lot.

We serve our clients in the middle of the day. The summer temps are high and the overhead sun heats the blacktop surface where we operate. It takes an hour to set everything up. As a further complication, ants quickly invaded the food pantry while lingering soot drifted down from the church.

It’s hard not to feel discouraged. The program’s future is once again uncertain. Most days, I wilt in the heat. We leave exhausted at the end of the shift, lucky to have homes where we can retreat.

In the end, that’s why I continue to show up. But, that said, it’s not easy.

22 thoughts on “Fire in a Church: Conclusion

  1. It seems almost jinxed. All of that in four years is a lot. It’s seems the way of the world these days. Profit before people. Our building was sold too and everyone here on small incomes are holding their collective breath to find out how long they will have a home. At least they have one for now which is more than your ladies can say. That heat would do me in within 10 minutes so I applaud you for sticking with it. Hopefully, a permanent solution will appear soon. My heart goes out to all of you.


    • Oh dear. Did your building sell again? I remember you mentioned a sale or potential sale but for some reason I though it had happened before you arrived. I will hold good thoughts for all of you. The heat is brutal. I always joke that I have British Aisle skin trying to survive in semi-arid San Jose. Ugh. Of course I shouldn’t be complaining to you about heat. I image your days are brutal.

      Hugs, MH

      Liked by 1 person

      • I go outside at 5:30 and do my 30 min walk. I do not go outside again. Next week we get some cooling finally but I’m not complaining. England is really being hit hard with heat. The building only sold once which took quite awhile to complete. It sold for 5 million. Just the 46 apartments. So many were unsettled about what would change. The owner lives in Hawaii and I’m sure it’s purely passive income for them. So far, no one has been put out on the street and I’m hoping they don’t raise the rents until each person here transitions out on their own merit. This is such a tiny town with few options. Keeping my fingers crossed for those that have fewer than I have. I’m so lucky.


  2. Your work is not going unnoticed. Be assured you are storing up a reward in heaven, although i know that’s not why you’re doing it. It must mean such a lot to your clients that you didn’t just pack up and disappear. You show them that they matter. Bravo.

    Liked by 2 people

    • That is kind of you to say, Kate. Our clients appreciate all that we offer, most importantly the chance to be heard. It’s in short supply these days. Kindness and civility, along with a smile, a few articles of clothing and other basic needs lift spirits. That’s why I’m still there. xo

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Dear Alys, what an angel you are and your resilience is so admirable. You really have been struggling against the odds and this last terrifying experience would have deterred most from carrying on. I really hope things improve for Lifted Spirits (and you and the other volunteers) very soon.


  4. Oh hon, it all sounds dismal and yet you continue to serve. I’m in awe. Why so many bad things can happen to a group doing such good is beyond reason. Especially when the need grows every single day. I’m sorry to hear about all those donations you so carefully edit and offer. Not to mention the food loss. I’m so proud of you and love you. See you soon xox K


  5. Oh, gosh! My heart goes out to you and to Lifted Spirits. What a time you have had, and still you go on. I so wish that your local paper would do a piece about Lifted Spirits, about the good work that has been done and the incredible challenges the organization has faced. Any chance of this?


    • Thank you, Laurie. I wanted to involve the press when we had to move. We were treated so poorly by the City, with virtually no help from our councilmember, forced to jump through ridiculous hoops. Perhaps this is a time to revisit that. Thank you for your suggestion. We have a large city paper, but two smaller ones as well. Hopefully, someone will be interested in our story.

      Liked by 1 person

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