A Year Ago… EACC fire remembered

Euclid Avenue Congregational Church Euclid Avenue Congregational Church fire Ruins of Euclid Avenue Congregational Church

It was a year ago today in the early hours of the morning that fire destroyed Euclid Avenue Congregational Church of the United Church of Christ, which was my church home (and employer) for twenty-seven years. The fire began during a freak thunder and lightning storm late the night before. I’d had Rosie out for her last walk of the night, and I remember wanting her to finish her business because it was starting to thunder. I’d also had a series of annoying spam calls on my cell phone, so I had turned it off before I went to bed at midnight. Had I not done that, I would have been among the first (perhaps the first?) to get the call about the fire, since I live in close proximity to the place and occasionally would receive calls from the Cleveland Clinic security about issues at the church. As it was, I did not know anything until early the next morning.

This all took place the Wednesday before Palm Sunday and Holy Week. There was a meeting of church leaders and staff in the morning on Wednesday, and by the end of the day the church found a temporary home thanks to the congregation of the former First United Methodist Church, who had recently vacated the church to merge with the former Epworth Euclid United Methodist Church. It was quite a miracle—a spacious facility with a large pipe organ, grand piano, hymnals in the pews. The EACC congregation is still meeting there a year later as they determine their future as a church.

The impact to me personally was considerable, since the church’s organ was lost, as was the choir’s music library and much of my own personal organ music library. I received a very generous insurance settlement, and I have replaced a lot of the music; I also received several very generous gifts of organ music from professional colleagues. Almost every week, however, I still discover something else that is gone. And money alone can’t replace the personal nostalgia that I had for some of the music, with its accumulation of forty years of markings, fingerings, and teachers’ markings. Some of the music was falling apart; other things had never been played.

There have been, of course, many challenges since then, and I salute those church leaders who have worked so tirelessly over the past year. The year was not without conflict, but the EACC congregation continues to be the resilient body it has been for over 160 years.

There have been many changes in the past year: Rev. Terri Young, the Interim Pastor at the time of the fire, has moved on to a new situation; the church has called Rev. Courtney Clayton Jenkins as its permanent pastor; and I have retired from the church as its Director of Music, with the intention of not playing every Sunday.

Hardly a day goes by that I don’t still think about the old church, and the magnificent Karl Wilhelm organ, which can never be replaced at any price. It was a unique instrument in a specific environment. One of the wonders of being an organist is that one’s instrument is integral to the architecture in which it is installed. Sometimes that equation works; other times it’s out of kilter. The Wilhelm was a perfect fit.

As Isaac Watts’ hymn said, “time, like an ever-rolling stream,” keeps on going. We survive; things change; things get better or worse. All the tears in the world won’t bring back the past. Optimism for the future is what sustains us.

There will be a service of remembrance at the site, 9606 Euclid Avenue, tonight, March 23, 2011, at 6:00 PM.

Our God, hour help in ages past,
Our Hope for years to come,
Be thou our guard while troubles last,
And our eternal home.
– Isaac Watts, 1674-1748

13 thoughts on “A Year Ago… EACC fire remembered

  1. Thanks, Tim. Your piece and pics gave me pause. Hope to see you tonight. Please email this piece to me so I can forward it to my Dad and family. I suppose there’s a way to do that from here, but I (of course) don’t know how. Dean

  2. My partner Tim and I were hired to tear down the old Austin organ and to prepare the sanctuary for the new Wilhelm organ. Karl Wilhelm came to town and took one of the old Austin wood pipes and made the keyboard for the new organ from that pipe thus making a connection between the old and the new. We did a lot of work for the church back then. We restored the little vestibule on the east side, put in the wooden wheelchair ramp, repaired plaster through out the church. I even did a stained glass window repair. Tim and his brother replaced cedar louvers up in the western front steeple. We roamed all through the church and knew of many of the building’s secrets. Larry and Brian kept us very busy leading up to the installation of the new Wilhelm organ. Mr Ford funded the restoration. We found old booze bottles under the floor of the old sanctuary. I still have an old flashlight we found plus one of the oak pineapples that were part of the Austin organ.

  3. Time like and ever rolling stream bears all its sons away – They fly forgotten as a dream dies at the opening day

    Our God, our help in ages past,
    Our hope for years to come,
    Be Thou our guard while troubles last,
    And our eternal home.

    How many times have I sung that in Prayers at Edgehill School for Girls and at Kings Collegeate School in Windsor Nova Scotia. We could sing it without the prayer book.

    How many times did I go back down to 96th and Euclid after teh fire taking pictures of that old building as it came down piece by piece, trying, in a way, to grasp the enormity of it all. I doubt there was any place wiithin I had not been including hte bell tower.
    Reading your tribute and rememberances Tim, was quite moving. Maria

  4. Dear Tim, Dean and Maria, Your words and remembrances moved me very much.
    Tim, your quiet and eloquent description of how this event affected you ring true for me as well. Words cannot adequately describe the loss. What enables me to continue are the members of my church family, the optimist and strenghth of our Pastor Courtney Clayton Jenkins, and the hope of what we will be. Tim and Maria you are missed. Hope to see you among us tonight. God bless you.

  5. Tim, that was beautiful. I was baptised there, had my wedding there, and it will forever be a place of serenity for me. I pray for the future of the Congregation, and know that we have all blessed from the wonderful experiences at the Church.

    Love to all,

  6. I like the hope expressed in the Pastor’s letter, Tim’s comments, and those of Dean, Jack, Maria, Eleanor and Heather. Nancy and I continue to pray for all of you and the congregation that out of the ashes will come a new ministry for a new day!

  7. (Note: On March 16, 2011 I was part of a group of 66 faith leaders from across the USA and Canada gathered in Indianapolis for a 3 day conference to discuss an emerging interfaith program called: Courage to Lead. The work is an outgrowth of the teaching and writing of the well known sociologist, Parker Palmer. What follows is self-explanatory 🙂

    Dear EACC,

    I’m sitting in a hotel in Indianapolis – part of a fascinating group of 66 people of faith focused on the leadership training that has grown out of the thoughtful writings of Parker Palmer with his decades of focus on building community and supporting habits of the heart.
    At this time in our retreat we’ve been invited to write a “love letter” to a faith community that has been significant in our lives, and this was a no-brainer for me … not only because of the ways you helped shaped my ministry and family for nearly 15 years but also because one week from now we will all remember the pain of losing that beautiful building we all loved so much. (Note – I obviously didn’t get this mailed right away, and I later thought it best to send it as a postscript anyway.)
    I hope that one year out you have moved beyond the shock and pain of loss to a realization that what has made you so special over many decades was not the building but instead the special witness you have given to the City of Cleveland, to the Western Reserve Association, to the Ohio Conference, and indeed to all of the United Church of Christ.
    You made a decision over 50 years ago to stay in the city to bear witness to integration and to serve those who have had to live with less, and you have done so with class and substance – notably with the music that has permeated your life (chancel choir, gospel choir, children’s choir, Music & Meditation series, and classical music of all sorts); and then also your annual arts festivals, chancel drama, day care center, openness to 12-step groups, Saturday Fun, InterAct (formerly ESIM), and multiple other ways you have served the community.
    The building may be gone, but all that has happened in it over the years can still happen. May God be with you as you work to make it so!

    Lenten Blessings – Randy Hyvonen (and Karen sends greetings & blessings, too!)

  8. Tim – My dad passed along the link to your blog – what a lovely rememberance of EACC, which was truly a 2nd home (and family) to me during my growing-up years. It was such a grand building and amazing community of people…and so many of my memories are of the wonderful music program that you led – the chancel choir, gospel choir, children’s choir, musicals, your beautiful organ and the beautiful music you created on it. I remember turning pages for you while you played and having a few occasions to play a little bit on that organ myself. I wish I could have joined in the remembrance program on March 23rd – but I am so glad to know that EACC lives on in our memories, in the people who were and remain a part of that community, and in our hopes and dreams for its future.
    With best wishes,

  9. It does seem our grieving cycles majestically and as we one resolve one loss, there is always another one waiting. Thank you for this window into your process and the memories you hold so dear. They are shared by many 🙂

  10. Tim,

    I feel lucky to have discovered your blog. At the same time, I’m sad, very sad, to read about the fire and its effect on your life. We often use throw-away words like “it’s only the material world”. But when it happens to us, we learn how the material is part of the spiritual in very deep ways.

    I’m thinking of linking to your message for my blog post next week. I hope that’s all right with you. And when in St. Petersburg, FL, do look me up.

  11. Feel free to link to the post. I’m happy to know that you found it interesting and useful.

  12. Dear Timothy,

    I think I left your choir at EACC in 2005. I moved to Columbus in July of that year. I remember arriving at First Congregational Church for a Holy Week service in 2010. Before I got into the building, someone stopped me and asked “Was the church that burned down in Cleveland the one that you attended?” That was the first I heard. My own somewhat estranged brother died of a long illness two years earlier, and the news of the loss of EACC was FAR worse than saying goodbye to my brother. I felt …lost for many days.

    Of course, you are absolutely correct when you speak about the quality of THAT organ in THAT space. You might be too humble to admit that the whole of that specific work of art needs three legs to stand, the third being the Organist. Listening to your transcription of Sibelius’ Finlandia on The Wilhelm was easily one of the most glorious performances I’ve ever heard. Even if that were on an organ of 150 ranks, I don’t think it would have been grander. Hearing that amazing Cornet soar above the entire organ at the end of the work brought (and still brings) tears.

    I am so sorry for your loss. I cannot imagine going through that myself.

    Funny how Art and Suffering seem such close partners.

    Andrew MacGregor
    Columbus OH

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