This morning sometime between 7:30am and 9:30am, someone broke into DUUF and set a series of fires throughout the building. I discovered the fire when Erik and I came by at 9:30am to check on the building. The suspect is a young teenager and these crimes are by no means his first offenses. He is not related to DUUF and likely picked our church because it was in his neighborhood and close to Denton High School. He is now in police custody for these crimes and other crimes committed in the immediate area of the church.
Starting a couple of months ago, we began to have break-ins at the church. It stopped for a time and then started back up last week on Friday night and continued almost daily through today. The suspect was breaking windows in the sanctuary to gain entrance. Each break-in resulted in increased theft and vandalism to our property. In addition to the fire, two laptops have been stolen and countless staff and volunteer hours have been spent cleaning and repairing the damage, making police reports, gathering evidence, securing the building, and emotionally processing these events as they have happened.
The damage from the fire is significant, but not overwhelming. The office is largely untouched by the fire. The rest of the building has smoke and water damage. In addition, the sanctuary had two smallish fires that caused some damage, but the more extensive damage was to Fellowship Hall and our religious education classrooms, especially room five (which has been called the “teen room”). Some sheetrock and windows are broken. Some furniture is burned beyond repair. In Fellowship Hall half our library was burned and the other half has water damage. The television was damaged. Structurally the church is fine, but we will have some recovery ahead of us. There is much to be grateful for in what remains (chalice, hymnals, chancel furniture, religious education materials, kitchen, office, important papers, etc.).
Most importantly though everyone is safe and our community is strong. I am grateful to our Board of Trustees (especially Sunnie Palmer and Tesa Morin), Bobby Oehlschalger (new Chair of our Buildings and Grounds Committee), Erik Goodlett, Jake Jacobson, Cindy Jacobson, Matthew Morin and Meredyth Fleisher Howard who demonstrated tremendous leadership this past week and have gone above-and-beyond to help out. I am also grateful to the Denton Police and Fire Departments who have been kind and helpful every step of the way. We are also well supported by First Christian Church, the Unitarian Universalist Association and many, many others who are reaching out to help.
This event has been heartbreaking. Our building symbolizes so much of our community and our experiences together. I am grateful that this was not a personal attack, but instead seems to be the result of our church just happening to be there. I worry for this young boy and the path that he is already on so early in life.
As we move forward, we will have some clean-up opportunities so watch the newsletter for details. In the meantime, we ask that you not enter the building. If you have questions about entering the building, or other aspects of these events, please contact the Board (email@example.com).
The next two Sundays (12/20 and 12/27) we will hold our worship service at 1:00pm at First Christian Church (across the street) in their sanctuary. Children will join us in the service (no religious education classes) and I look forward to gathering with all of you.
Our hope is that by next Thursday, December 24, our sanctuary (just the sanctuary) will be cleaned and ready for our Christmas Eve services at 4:30pm (children/family service) and 6:00pm (candlelight service). We ask that you please be sure to spread the word, especially to folks who might not be in the online loop. We will also post a sign on the door.
As you process all of this, please be sure to talk with one another about your responses and feelings. Also know that we have compassionate, wise counselors in our midst and if you’d like to talk with someone about your response to the fire, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org for information.
In room five, the most-damaged room, a poster was fire damaged, but intact. It reads, “We extinguish this flame, but not the light of truth, the warmth of community, or the fire of commitment. These we carry in our hearts until we are together again.” Although the fire symbolism in that statement has a certain irony now, the heart of the message remains. May truth, community and commitment carry us through this difficult time.
Love and light,