The cause of the fire that ripped through Woodbury Union Church Thanksgiving eve has yet to be identified; insurance adjusters have not said how much the company will pay; members of the congregation can’t access the building to retrieve items they believe are not damaged; and there’s no knowing if the church will be able to rebuild.
But spirits are high in response to the community outpouring and especially as the Roman Catholic parish of nearby St. Benedict Church opened its doors and facilities to Woodbury. Woodbury Sunday services are held at St. Benedict at 10:30 and the church has made space available to the Boy and Girl Scouts troops as well as other organizations displaced by the Woodbury fire. Space is still being sought for the AA meetings traditionally held on Friday night.
Woodbury Pastor T.J. DeMarco, who came to the church this fall, admits a lot has been going on in his life. Apart from leading a new congregation and then faced with the church fire, DeMarco’s wife delivered a son three weeks ago. He’s thankful for the support he’s received from Father Robert Marciano at St. Kevin that has “yoked” with St. Benedict and retired St. Benedict pastor Father Roland Simoneau, to parishioners offering to baby-sit and bringing over meals.
He finds a parallel to the uncertainty of Woodbury’s future to Advent. He noted that Joseph and Mary, pregnant with child, did not know what might happen or where they would go. But, he added with that unsettled feeling, there’s also hope.
He’s amazed by the welcome of the St. Benedict community. While Father Marciano said he was turning the keys over to Woodbury, DeMarco didn’t want to assume he could use the Communion table at the altar, so he asked Father Simoneau.
DeMarco said Father Simoneau told him, ‘If you’re comfortable using it, use it.’
The future of Woodbury is, indeed, unsettled. Until they have answers on insurance payments, for that matter even the next steps on what will become of the building, there’s no way of planning. There’s talk that what remains of the steeple will need to come down for safety reasons.
Upsetting to George Tarring, Richard Deering and other parishioners is that, after being told they would have access to the burned church, the city’s building department has refused to let them go in. DeMarco understands the concern for safety, however, from photographs it’s clear that many items survived the fire and could be recovered.
Tarring, however, is delighted that firefighters on the night of the fire were able to salvage the 60 bells used by the handbell choir. They have been polished and, apparently, neither the fire nor the water damaged their tone. The Woodbury handbell choir has been invited to perform as part of the St. Kevin Church Christmas concert on Dec. 14 at 7 p.m. at the church. Tarring said the foam-lined boxes for the bells need to be replaced, but that’s a small price compared to the bells themselves.
The community has responded generously to the crisis.
Carol Christensen said a GoFundMe page for the rebuilding of the church raised about $10,000 as of Sunday. There’s a link to the page from the church’s Facebook page. In addition, another $7,000 to $8,000 earmarked for the campaign has been mailed to the church at P.O. Box 9484, Warwick, RI 02889.
Parishioner Susan Hay called community outreach “phenomenal.” She said members of the two churches are working on a food drive and pantry. Burlington, she said, has helped out with the donations of coats to help the church in its work to help those who are needy.
Compelled to give back in return, Hay asks of St. Kevin and St. Benedict, “What can we do for you?”
The disaster and the response have not gone unnoticed. The following comments were selected from those of a video posted by the Warwick Beacon of Father Marciano’s address to Woodbury parishioners the Sunday after the fire:
Patricia Smiley: “Father Bob, the love you show inspires all. Thank you for all you do in Jesus’ precious name.”
Wayne Hemond: “God bless Father Marciano! Great to see a community come together and thanks to our new Mayor Joseph J. Solomon for being there for everyone! Great to see for the City of Warwick!”
Noella Chelly Hames: “Now this is how people and community should be.”
Christine Michaels: “My heart is just overflowing with how generous St. Benedict’s came to the rescue of the Woodbury Union Church after the devastating fire that occurred there. This is humanity at its best. God speed.”
Jennifer Wilkosz: “This makes my heart smile.”