RIVERSIDE (CBSLA) – Volunteers spent Christmas Eve salvaging what they could inside a century-old church in Riverside after a fire ripped through the sanctuary Sunday night.
The blaze caused considerable damage near the stage area of the Magnolia Presbyterian Church, and shattered glass could be seen from where the fire busted out the front windows. It took crews about an hour to extinguish the blaze, which broke out around 7:15 p.m.
“We are telling ourselves that a church is not about a building, it’s about the people,” said pastor Claire Schlegel.
No other structures were damaged, including the original church – a separate building that was built in 1881, according to Magnolia’s website.
But the building that was scorched has been around since the 1960s, and held special meaning for many Riverside families.
“I was married here, my kids were baptized here, so definitely a lot of memories,” said church elder Ann Laudermilk.
Investigators have not yet determined what sparked the fire, but they have determined it started in a room just behind the sanctuary, where equipment for the church organ was held.
“It could have happened at any time, but luckily, no one was here. No one got hurt, so that’s a blessing,” Laudermilk said.
But the church had been expecting a large crowd for Christmas Eve service. Parishioners were sent scrambling to make room in their original sanctuary, which can’t hold as many people. Schlegel said she never considered cancelling services.
“I think people are going to need that, to gather as a community just for reassurance and know that we’ll get through this,” she said.
Schlegel added she has already been uplifted seeing the amount of support, not only from her congregation, but from nearby churches that have offered their help.
“It is the light in the midst of the darkness, which is exactly what this season is about,” she said.