Senior Pastor Lori Bievenour’s 20th Christmas season at St. Peter’s United Church of Christ in Carmel isn’t turning out to be quite what she expected.
The church building at Keystone Parkway and Carmel Drive has been closed since late July when a lightning strike ignited a fire in a storage closet. Firefighters contained the blaze near where it started, but smoke and firefighting efforts caused extensive damage throughout the church, Bievenour said, leaving the 119-year-old congregation without access to its permanent home through the holiday season and beyond.
So, this year, while the church has continued its efforts to help those in need through its Giving Tree program and diaper drive, it has found itself as a recipient of an outpouring of aid and support.
“This season is not just about giving but receiving, and that’s what we’ve had to do as a church community,” Bievenour said. “We’ve had to receive gifts from other communities and from neighbors and from our city officials. And that, while humbling, is really important and reflects really well on the Carmel community.”
Since the fire, several other Carmel religious communities, organizations and businesses have offered assistance. Orchard Park Presbyterian Church has offered its chapel for weekly gatherings and expanded its preschool to add some of the students displaced from the program at St. Peter’s. 502 East Event Centre provided space for worship services in the weeks after the fire, and St. Peter’s has partnered with Carmel Clay Schools to relocate its services to Clay Middle School for the foreseeable future.
For the holiday season, another partner stepped up. St. Mark’s United Methodist Church at Gray Road and 126th Street is providing its sanctuary for St. Peter’s to hold a Candles and Carols Christmas Celebration at 6 p.m. (organ prelude at 5:45 p.m.) Dec. 17.
“We recognized that we were longing to be in a space that was more traditionally sacred,” Bievenour said. “The (school) cafeteria and auditorium have become home, but we miss being in a sanctuary, and we miss having an organ and some other sacred music.”
The free event, which is open to the community, will feature brass and woodwind ensembles and soloists. The candles will be battery powered, Bievenour said.
“We’re not going to risk the flame in our borrowed space as a result of being a little bit burned by fire,” she said. “We will create some ambiance and share some cookies and just celebrate being together, and that’s what matters.”
St. Peter’s will celebrate Christmas Eve with a service at 10 a.m. Dec. 24 at Clay Middle School and will return to its own property for an outdoor Christmas Eve sunset service at 5:30 p.m. A tent will be onsite in case of inclement weather.
As for the inside of the building, Bievenour said she is hopeful that work to clear out, restore and reconstruct St. Peter’s building will begin in early 2024. At this point, it’s too early to know whether the congregation will be able to celebrate the next Christmas season in its own space.
For now, Bievenour is thankful to be part of a community that continues to demonstrate the spirit of giving.
“There are community members that are holding us in the lights of the season, and they’re praying for us, and they’re encouraging us to build anew,” she said. “That gives us strength.”
Learn more about St. Peter’s at stpeterscarmel.org.