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Congregation of burned Clearfield church holds Palm Sunday services
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Clearfield •The sun didn't filter through the stained glass windows. There was no organ music echoing off the solid timbers of the high ceiling, or a procession of children with palm fronds. Congregants held white printer paper instead of song books.

It didn't matter.

"We may not be in our old building," Tina Ramirez told the Clearfield Community Church members Sunday morning, "but we are still here."

The church held Palm Sunday services at the Wasatch Elementary gym after a Tuesday fire gutted their church building a few blocks away. With a simple table-top cross, potted palms and a collection of daffodils decorating the space, the day's message of renewal seemed particularly fitting.

Pastor John Parsley held a large blue parade banner salvaged from the flames as he preached, sending the smell of smoke wafting through the room.

"This may be a symbol of you, of us," he said, and paraphrased Winston Churchill. "'Never, never, never, never give up.'"

Parsley was working on a sermon in his office Tuesday when someone came to warn him about the fire, and left the book open to Matthew chapter 5 as he left. The blaze had started after a computer used as a card catalog at the church library overheated.

"It was an old, old computer," said Gerald Nichols, a small group coordinator at the church. "It got turned on once a month."

"It's such a small, inconsequential thing, to have caused so much pain," said his wife, Cathy. Though there are often dozens of children at the church for home schooling, that day there were only about 13 junior high-age kids, and everyone got out safely.

The fire burned fast and hot, in part because the 35-year-old sanctuary didn't have a sprinkler system — it was grandfathered in under old rules, said North Davis Fire Chief Mark Becraft.

"It was a very, very dangerous fire," he said, one that forced his firefighters out as the stairs started to fall. At one point, firefighters turned off their hoses to allow the blaze to consume the heavy timber on the building's west side, removing the fuel. "If we hadn't done that, it would still be smoldering today."

The blaze caused $750,000 to $1 million worth of damage. Though some of the brick walls still stand, the inside of the building is now a nest of twisted, blackened beams, the stained glass windows that were near the ceiling destroyed. Seven of those were handmade by member Edward Isler, who is retired from Hill Air Force Base.

"The pastor was just saying, 'Isn't that something, when the sun is low, it casts [shadows of] the etchings on the floor?'" said Isler on Sunday. One window, an image of a wafer and a wheat stalk, was created in memory of his wife.

"We would always say 'We've got to remember to take a picture of them,' but we never did," said his daughter, Tine Wolfe.

The congregation — about 170 people on Sunday — will hold services at Wasatch Elementary for the foreseeable future, but are insured and plan to rebuild. The less-damaged part of the building, including the fellowship hall, could be repaired in five months, said Bill Storing, chairman of the stewardship and finance committee, but it will likely be at about two years before the full church is rebuilt.

"The congregation is the church," said Clearfield Mayor Don Wood. "The goodness and the heart of the people."

April Ehrig of West Point has been attending the church of 20 years, and got her seminary degree and did a mission to the Czech Republic. She seemed to hold back tears as she talked about the fire.

Still, "situations like this tend to bring people together," she said. "It tells you what's important."

lwhitehurst@sltrib.com

Twitter: @lwhitehurst

What happened? • Tuesday blaze guts Clearfield Community Church. What's next? • Congregation holds services at school and plans to rebuild.
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