It was on Sabbath

It was on Sabbath

For decades, Coventry Central Seventh-day Adventist Church has been in the same location, trying to make a difference in the community. What happened on Sabbath 30th September was unprecedented. The afternoon program started just before 4 pm, as usual. However, members noticed a faint smell of smoke pervading the church a few minutes into the program. No one took any notice as the church is situated a few metres from a row of houses as it's located in the heart of a community. Unfortunately, the old adage still holds, "There is no smoke without fire.

Moments later, a fire engine could be heard, so deacon Terry went outside to investigate what was happening. A couple of moments later, one of the elders was called to step outside. By this time, those in the afternoon programme could sense something was wrong. The elder returned to the sanctuary, explained what was happening and called the church to prayer. The season of prayer having ended, the whole church went out to show their support. Smoke and flames were seen from the blaze on the 11th floor of the 16-storey block of flats.

Within minutes, ten fire engines, 4x4 response vehicles, a hydraulic aerial platform, numerous police cars, several ambulances and Cadent Gas vehicles soon lined up outside the church. The once quiet afternoon was filled with the sound of sirens. All roads leading into St Nicholas Street – the street the church is on – were blocked off, except for emergency vehicles.

The fire services wasted no time evacuating the residents, with individuals of all ages rushing towards the fire assembly point, less than 20 metres from the church. Some residents in the area were curious to see what was happening, whilst others were visibly shaken.

Everything happened as if the Lord had prepared the church for this unfortunate event and had set the right people in place to help. The church wasted no time and quickly told the emergency workers that the church was open for anyone who needed shelter. Soon, people were seen making their way into the sanctuary and some into the youth hall. Everyone was made to feel comfortable, with some members providing warm refreshments. It was all hands on deck. We witnessed a miracle of multiplication of the five loaves and two fish. There was an assortment of cookies, biscuits, bread for toast and Swiss rolls. With the church's social supermarket, there was enough to go around. It was such a scene to behold as you looked at everyone holding their mugs whilst conversing with "total strangers". People of all ages, colour and creed, were brought together by adversity. Friendships and commitments were made by many, hopefully for eternity.

The highlight for me was the opportunity to see a work colleague who lives more than 20 miles from our church whose daughter was one of the affected and had sought shelter in the church. My colleague was so grateful, and on Monday, she sent this message, "Morning…I hope you are well. I just wanted to thank you and your church for helping everyone on Saturday, it was so kind of you all to open your church to help everyone. My daughter was able to go back into her flat on Sunday. You are a star, thank you."

By 8 pm the fire service was beginning to allow those residing in the first five floors to go back into the building, and they were slowly working their way up. At 9 pm, around 30 or so people were left in the church, so the church ordered pizza for everyone. Finally, around 10:30 pm, the housing association found accommodation for those who could not go back into the building.

Having been kept informed while attending the NEC Ordination, Dr Patrick Herbert was proud that his church and membership had been hospitable to all those in our neighbourhood. He said, "Coventry Central is by nature a church with the community at heart. The many community events carried out in his tenure have prepared them to be ready, willing, and available to assist at short notice. God be praised.

The church's community aid was so newsworthy that a local BBC reporter wrote a piece for the media.

What a day it had been! One thing I have learnt is that God enables those that He calls.