Ohio Church Burns on Christmas Eve, District Calls for Prayer

(Jan. 2, 2007) — Black River Church of the Brethren in Spencer, Ohio, burned to the ground late on the night of Christmas Eve, Dec. 24, 2006. The fire broke out some time after the congregation’s Christmas Eve service was over, but preliminary reports suggest that the fire was not related to the candlelight service.

“Please keep pastor Mark Teal and the congregation in your prayers as they faithfully look to the future,” said John Ballinger, executive minister of Northern Ohio District. The district reported that the Black River congregation celebrated its 150th anniversary in 2005. In 2001, the church completed repairs after a tornado caused roof and water damage.

“It is literally burned to the ground,” Ballinger said of the church building. However, the congregation of about 80 on a Sunday morning is “a vibrant, very healthy congregation,” he said. “They have a very good spirit about them. They are going to recover.”

Ballinger said church members are “thinking it was an electrical fire” not caused by the candle lighting. “Several people went through the church after the service and checked that everything was out,” he said.

An e-mail communication from the district office responded to those who have asked how they can help the Black River congregation. Pastor Teal has told the district that volunteers for clean up will not be needed until after the investigation of the fire is complete. Until then, monetary donations of love offerings are being received at First Merit Bank, to be made out to the “Black River Church of the Brethren Rebuilding Fund.”

“Thank you for continuing in prayer for the Black River congregation,” the district said.

For media reports about the fire go to:
  • “Burning church ‘difficult thing to see’: Chatham Twp. fire starts after service,” The Plain Dealer, Cleveland, Ohio
    Black River Church of the Brethren in Spencer, Ohio, has burned down. The church was largely rebuilt after a 2001 tornado, and recently celebrated its 150th anniversary. The report is at
  • “Church Devasted by Fire,” OhioNewsNow.com
    Black River Church of the Brethren burned to the ground hours after its Christmas Eve service ended. This very short Associated Press report is at
  • “Church congregation doesn’t let the fire that destroyed their church, ruin their New Year,” WKYC.com
    Members of Black River Church of the Brethren, including pastor Mark Teal, are interviewed in an online video report from WKYC Channel 3 News, of Akron/Canton, Ohio. The online video is at


The Church of the Brethren Newsline is produced by Cheryl Brumbaugh-Cayford, director of news services for the Church of the Brethren General Board. Newsline stories may be reprinted if Newsline is cited as the source. To receive Newsline by e-mail go to http://listserver.emountain.net/mailman/listinfo/newsline. Submit news to the editor at cobnews@brethren.org. For more Church of the Brethren news and features, subscribe to “Messenger” magazine; call 800-323-8039 ext. 247.


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