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Community support for churches after disasters are Carroll tradition [Column]

On the Mason-Dixon Line in northern Carroll County, the historic town of Lineboro was awakened at 4:11 a.m. on Tuesday when the first alarm rang out that there was a fire in the 160-year-old Lazarus United Church of Christ and Lutheran Union Church. Two alarms and two hours later, the fire was declared under control.

In spite of the efforts of approximately 60 firefighters from Carroll and Baltimore counties and York County, Pa., the historic structure was a total loss.

According to research by historians Joe Getty and Mary Ann Ashcraft for the Historical Society of Carroll County, "Carroll County was strongly influenced by German Baptists, also known as Dunkards and later as Church of the Brethren, and by two denominations which worked closely together during those early years — Lutheran and Reformed (now known as United Church of Christ.)

"In the less populated areas of Maryland, the two groups established 'union' churches with services held for both faiths at different times. This pattern can be seen throughout the northern and western parts of present-day Carroll County where Pennsylvania Germans settled in significant numbers …"

It is in that spirit of "union" and cooperation that Carroll County has a history and tradition of coming together to support friends and neighbors at a time of tragedy.

Lineboro, like much of Carroll County, was founded on agriculture, community cooperation and the church. Centuries later, these three pillars remain critical to our quality of life, despite efforts of east coast intellectuals who insist the march to modernity must be accompanied by progressive secularism.

Carroll has a history of natural disasters — snowstorms, floods, tornadoes, fires — that threaten our safety, health and welfare. Too often, these natural disasters find a church.

On June 19, 1952, a storm destroyed the St. John's Roman Catholic Church steeple on Main Street in Westminster.

On Feb. 19, 1893, a tornado destroyed the steeple at St. Paul's United Church of Christ at the corner of Green Street and Bond.

On April 9 and 10, 1883, an entire section of Westminster, from John Street to Carroll Street to Main Street, burned to the ground. All that was left of Grace Evangelical Lutheran Church at 21 Carroll Street was a brick shell.

Photos of the remains of Grace Church look eerily like the photographs of the remains of Lazarus Church.

When it burned, Grace Church was relatively new. The church had been dedicated on Feb. 23, 1868. At the time, the church was located outside of Westminster. "When Grace Church was built there were but three houses between the railroad and Carroll Street," according to a 1967 history of the church.

According to a church history account of the fire reports, "It was truly a trying ordeal for the Lutherans, who had but a few years before made the final payment on their church, to see laid in ashes the beautiful sanctuary which has cost them so many sacrifices …

"Friends came to our rescue, and in a few days we were again keeping house, with borrowed furniture and other equipments. Four days after the fire, a committee was appointed to solicit subscriptions for the erection of a new (church) … The corner stone was laid August 19th, 1883 …

"And services were held in the partially constructed church on Christmas Sunday …"

As is the case in the wake of the Lazarus Church fire, Carroll County always comes together to overcome adversity and disasters. The Grace Church history observes, "Friends tried and true rallied around the pastor that night, and brethren, my heart goes out in gratitude to you yet, thanks! Thanks! For what you did for me … when we were passing through the fiery trials …"

In an email after last week's fire, the Delaware Maryland Lutheran Synod said, "Lazarus is a union church, providing a place of worship for both UCC and ELCA congregants. Several congregations in the area, including both ELCA and non-ELCA churches, have offered assistance. Space has been provided so that Christmas and Christmas Eve services can be held. Communion ware has been loaned for the 7:00 p.m. prayer vigil this evening at the local volunteer fire department located at 4224 Main Street.

"We ask for your prayers for the people of Lazarus Church, including both UCC and ELCA members, in the days to come."

When he is not reading Psalm 46: 1-3, "God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble," he may be reached at

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