UUFP—Past/Present/Future: “Fire”

is a collection of stories
about UUFP’s formative years and
its ensuing perseverance in purpose, mission and ministry.
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It was an otherwise ordinary Monday afternoon that Spring when firefighters were called to a three-alarm fire.  Smoke could be seen from a distance billowing from the three-story church building where the fire burned out of control for more than an hour.  When the roof caved in, firefighters working with hoses from two huge aerial truck ladders were finally able to get almost their two thousand gallons of water a minute directly onto the blaze.  Several firefighters suffered from heat exhaustion and two were taken to the hospital for treatment, while throngs of spectators were kept at a distance by the police.  Traffic was detoured around a six-block area as more than a mile of city street was cut off.

“It’s a devastating loss for us,” the church’s president said.  Just three months before, he explained, an arsonist had set a small fire in the downstairs kitchen and the congregation had just finished cleaning up and repairing from that incident.  “When I heard about the fire,” the church’s president said, “my first thought was “the arsonist has struck again’ but that doesn’t seem to be the case, according to what the fire department is telling us now.”  He noted that the congregation of sixty to sixty-five active members had been meeting in the building for ten years, adding that the church had been established for twenty-one years.

It was May 1979, the church building in question belonged to the Unitarian Fellowship of the Peninsula, and the church’s president at the time was the late Ed Chambers.  If you’ve heard this story before, then you know that, as the ashes and rubble were being cleared, it was discovered that a couple of bookcases had fallen over and, in so doing, had protected a few important items from the fire.  First, there was our 1958 charter from the American Unitarian Association.  Second, there was the original membership book, dating back to 1957 and with the names and signatures of our forty charter members on the first page.  And third, there was our chalice, given by teenager Keith Dixon when his family moved away.

But the story doesn’t end there.  Between the arsonist and a smoky smell that members noticed when they opened up the building on Sundays, the Board had decided to increase their congregation’s insurance policy.  Apparently mice had been chewing on the wiring, and it was, the fire department determined, an electrical short that started the fire.  Once the insurance company was satisfied with that explanation, too, the UFP had both the money and the pride, commitment and hope represented by the charter, membership book and chalice to move forward, breaking ground on a new property on Young’s Mill Lane in early 1980.

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