LYNNFIELD — The Lynnfield Community Church could have been lost to a devastating fire two years ago. But quick thinking from several parishioners, and perhaps the hand of God, saved it.
“It was a bit of a miracle, and we are very thankful,” said Rev. Ray Henderson. “If the sanctuary had burned, it would have hurt. But it was spared, so was our 160-year-old organ, and bibles that date back many years.”
After an 18-month fight with their insurance company, contractors are putting the finishing touches on the first phase of a $650,000 renovation, bringing the 162-year-old building up to code for its two dozen parishioners.
In addition to new wiring, the improvements include handicapped accessible bathrooms, new windows on the first and lower levels, and a $30,000 fire alarm network.
The security system is GPS equipped and tells firefighters where the blaze originated. If a firefighter is lost in a smoke-filled building, the GPS will signal the location to the command staff.
Jack Marino, the church’s property deacon, remembers the fire like it was yesterday.
On Thursday night, Oct. 5, 2017, about a half dozen parishioners attended a men’s wood-carving group in Marshall Hall while a contractor repaired a water main.
“The lights started flickering, and we noticed an odd smell, like burning plastic,” he recalled. “The contractors didn’t seem concerned, but we called the Lynnfield Fire Department and they shut electricity to the building immediately because they sensed an electrical fire was smoldering in the walls.”
The electric company was called. They removed the electric meter and discovered the wire from the street to the building was in bad shape, he said.
“It was a perfect storm of things that went wrong,” Marino said. “It was a combination of old wiring and other things. The fire department stayed the night, but ordered every wire in the building be replaced from top to bottom.”
Two days later, minutes after a newly installed electrical panel was installed, it exploded in flames. Marino was called to the church that evening. When he opened the door, thick, black smoke filled smoke the wood-frame building.
The Fire Department returned and stationed two firefighters, who watched the building all night from the basement to the steeple, he recalled.
“Every wire was fried, including light fixtures,” he said. “That second fire was worse and more complicated.”
Originally, the insurance company, who church officials declined to name, paid $60,000 to get the work started. But the money stopped and an arbitrator was brought in to reach a settlement.
While the insurance firm agreed to pay an additional $440,000, the church plans to spend more to renovate the sanctuary that was damaged by water. A second insurance claim is pending and the second phase is expected to cost $150,000. It will include new windows in the sanctuary, and plaster and roof repairs from water damage.
The church hopes to defray some of the costs that are not covered by insurance by renting the lower level space to a daycare center.
Despite damage to the church, the parish only missed one Sunday service in two years.
“We have a very faithful congregation,” said Henderson.
Dubbed the second oldest building in Lynnfield, it was built across the highway on Route 1 North. But in 1936 they moved it on a giant sled pulled by a team of horses to Salem Street. Originally known as the Second Congregational Church of Lynnfield, they joined the United Church of Christ in the 1950s.
“We decided to call it the Lynnfield Community Church around the same time because it was a church anyone could come to,” said Donna Baldwin, the church clerk.
At 71, Baldwin has much invested in the church. Her parents joined the congregation in 1955 and it’s the only church she knows.
“I’ve been a member since I was 7 years old, I grew up here,” she said. “My parents and my two sisters were married here, it has a lot of history for me.”