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Disaster hits three congregations

Storms and fire struck UU congregations in Alabama, Massachusetts, and Maine.
By Julia Angley And Michelle Bates Deakin And Donald E. Skinner
Fall 2011 8.15.11

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Damaged steeple in Monson, Mass. (© 2011 The Republican Company)

A June 1 tornado reduced the steeple of the historic Unitarian Universalist Parish of Monson, Mass., to a pile of rubble. (© 2011 The Republican Company. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.)

Severe storms and a fire wreaked havoc on Unitarian Uni­versalist congregations this spring. Tornadoes in Tuscaloosa, Ala., and other parts of the Southeast damaged or destroyed homes of several UU families April 27. Another tornado June 1 toppled the steeple of the UU Parish of Monson, Mass. A fire June 6 heavily damaged the 125-year-old UU Church of Brunswick, Maine.

In Tuscaloosa, the Rev. Fred Hammond spent several anxious days reaching out to his 75-member congregation after storms devastated a wide area of Tuscaloosa. Six families lost homes, but there were no fatalities. The church building was undamaged. Other congregations in the Mid-South District quickly provided support. The district created the 2011 Severe Storm Fund, available on the district’s website. (See UU World’s full reports, “Severe Storm to Provide Storm Relief,” 5.2.11, and “Tornado-Struck Towns Begin Recovery,” 5.9.11.)

The steeple at Monson, Mass., which is near Springfield in western Massachusetts, fell into the churchyard. At the time of the storm, the 19-member congregation was in the final stages of a $215,000 renovation to its 1888 building, partly paid for with community preservation tax funds. The building had been closed since May 2010 for structural repairs. Its large stained glass window, removed at the start of the work, had not yet been reinstalled at the time of the storm.

The Rev. Darrick Jackson said that other parts of the building were not damaged. The Clara Barton and Massachusetts Bay districts created a fund to help with storm damage. The steeple will be replaced, said Jackson. (See UU World’s full report, “Tornado Topples Steeple of Massachusetts Church,” 6.6.11.)

An early morning fire at the UU Church of Brunswick, Maine, destroyed the entire rear of the building, gutting the first and second floors. Among items destroyed were historic stained glass windows. A Bible given to the church by poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow was salvaged.

The Northern New England District of the Unitarian Universalist Association set up a relief fund. The minister, the Rev. Sylvia Stocker, said shortly after the fire that it was undetermined whether the building could be restored. The congregation, which has 157 members, held a flower celebration service the Sunday after the fire and planned to hold future services in the town library. (See UU World’s full report, “Fire Devastates Maine Church,” 6.10.11.)


This article, which appeared in the Fall 2011 issue of UU World, was abridged from articles published earlier on uuworld.org. See sidebar for links to related resources.

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