Refiner's fire

Scott Goldstein of the Richmond Times-Dispatch wrote a concise and energetic story on Monday about the 10th anniversary of a devastating fire at St. James's Episcopal Church in Richmond (which I attend). Goldstein picks up the story's sweetest details: the congregation's vestry (board of elders) voted unanimously to rebuild, gladly accepted the invitation from Congregation Beth Ahabah to meet there during reconstruction, and emerged from the ordeal stronger than ever.

The church's eleborate stained-glass windows were spared when the roof and balconies collapsed -- the balconies shielded the windows from the heat of the flames.

Goldstein works his way to this elegant conclusion:

[The Rev. Randolph] Hollerith [rector of St. James's] was working at another church at the time of the fire, but did visit the site.

"The fire was a horrible tragedy," he said. "But the blessings that have come with that have been amazing."

In addition to the rebuilt sanctuary, they have a new organ to replace the one destroyed in the fire, a new chapel and an underground parish hall.

To demonstrate how the memory of the fire remains fresh, Hollerith led a visitor downstairs from his chamber and through the main sanctuary to the chapel.

There, on the back wall of the chapel hang the charred remains of the carved mahogany reredos, or decorative facing, that once adorned the wall behind the altar. It's a depiction of Jesus and his disciples.

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