Throughout the ages, the basic pillars of Christianity have been rooted in acceptance and faith.
Today, members of the Cedar Grove Wesleyan Church, near the Delaware/Maryland border west of Felton are leaning on those tenants as they face the loss of their 155-year-old place of worship.
The wood-frame church building, which had stood at a bend in a rural Kent County road since James Buchanan was president, burned to the ground the morning of Aug. 11.
Investigators with the Delaware State Fire Marshal’s Office are working to determine the cause of the fire.
The Rev. Daniel H. Taylor, who has served as pastor at Cedar Grove for the past 10 years, said the congregation, which numbers approximately 50 people, is accepting the loss and planning for the future.
Services were held the following week, Aug. 18, in Denton, Md., where the membership discussed what to do next.
“It was a bittersweet thing,” Taylor said. “We sang songs of praise that would encourage us, because I needed encouragement just like everyone else. My sermon said that perhaps we were right where God wanted us to be.”
Taylor said he used the example of three major Biblical figures, Noah, Jonah and Gideon, who, although at first reluctant to heed a call from God, did so and worked miracles.
With the fire, “maybe God is getting us out of our comfort zone,” he said.
The destroyed building was constructed in front of the site of an earlier church and, like many others of its time, featured a balcony where blacks could worship, segregated from the white congregation. The church served mostly farm families in the Felton area for more than 80 years, but for reasons not fully documented, it was closed in 1931.
But local pressure to reopen the building was strong, and the Methodist Protestant Conference was persuaded to reestablish the church. Stands of poison ivy and a swarm of bees that had made their home inside complicated matters, but services were again held beginning in 1933.
The church underwent numerous upgrades and renovations, but went without indoor plumbing until 2004.
Taylor and his wife, who live in Laurel and commuted to the church each Sunday, were awakened by a 5:45 a.m. phone call telling them of the fire. The church structure was almost gone by the time they arrived at the scene.
People were offering to help the congregation even before the last ember died out, Taylor said.
“We had a lot of people calling, saying ‘if we can help, let us know,’” he said. “People offered to help with new construction, some offered to clean up the debris. Other churches said they would take offerings and send that to us.”
Page 2 of 2 - Church members went over options for the future following this past Sunday’s service, Taylor said.
“We have three options,” he said. “The first is to rebuild, and that was the overwhelming consensus of the people. They want to do it.
“The second is to merge with another Wesleyan church that’s very close to us,” Taylor said. “That’s a possibility.”
The third choice would be to disband the congregation and close down.
“That was not a popular option,” Taylor said.
The biggest obstacle to rebuilding would be the cost, Taylor said. While the old church building was insured, there may not be enough in the settlement to cover the cost of a new one. In addition, the church was situated on a tiny sliver of land that might not be large enough to meet modern standards and building code requirements.
Regardless of what church members want, it may be up to Taylor’s superiors to make the final decision.
“My hope is that they give us some time,” he said. “Let us conduct services in Denton for a time and let us get our heads together.”
“We really have to pray to God to give us wisdom,” Taylor said. “We need to ask God to open or close doors for us. He will have to tell us if the church has had its usefulness or if we can continue on.”
Whatever the future holds, Taylor said the Cedar Grove church will live on in one form or another.
“I have a tremendous ministry, whether it is in that church or not,” he said. “The church itself didn’t burn up, the building did. The church is still there.”