Grace Under Fire

For First Time Since Blaze, Mt. Bethel Congregation Home Again

Posted: January 12, 2013

HARRISONBURG - A few hours after his family returned from watching a football game with church friends Sept. 30, Todd Humphries got word that their church, Mt. Bethel United Methodist Church, was on fire.
“My husband immediately just ran up there thinking it was something small and minute,” said his wife, Angela.
But he wasn’t prepared for what he saw.
“It was fully engulfed,” she said.
The whole family, including the couple’s two children — Emily and Ashley, who were 13 and 10 at the time — rushed to the scene. The Rev. Neil McLaughlin, of Weyers Cave, and other church members joined the Grottoes-based family.
“ ‘We had nothing left, absolutely nothing left,’ is what was going through our minds as we watched it burn,” Angela Humphries said.
The case was closed in December 2011, the cause still undetermined, but likely related to arson or electrical issues, according to McLaughlin.
In the parking lot, church members prayed while the building scorched, and McLaughlin promised them they’d find a new building.
“We didn’t miss a Sunday at all throughout the whole process,” he said.
For about a month, the group gathered for services at the Grottoes Fire Department before moving to a warehouse in Crimora for the next year.
The congregation started a fundraising campaign within three weeks of the fire to make up for what insurance didn’t cover as they worked to rebuild.
Moving Forward
On Sunday, more than 150 people crammed into the new 2,100-square-foot church building at 148 Rock Mountain Lane in Crimora for a dedication service, during which members could rest easy knowing they are debt-free.
The new structure boasts a youth room, which was in the works when the flames claimed the former building. It also has two bathrooms; the old building had only one.
While the church is still raising funds for a kitchen, the congregation was able to check some items off their wish list as the new structure went up.
“We did take advantage of a bad situation,” McLaughlin said. “It has turned out to be a big blessing.”
In addition to having a building more suited to the congregation’s needs, members hope they’ll grow in number.
Membership has already sprouted from about 20 regular Sunday attendees to almost 50 since McLaughlin came on board in July 2010.
“We just want to continue to grow,” McLaughlin said. “We’re going to continue to pick up where we dropped off.”
Throughout the process, during which various area churches helped Mt. Bethel regain its strength, the congregation remembered that it’s not the building that makes a church, but the people who fill it.
“Our church family knew that we didn’t have a church building, but we had each other and we had our faith and that would see us through,” Angela Humphries said.

Contact Candace Sipos at 574-6275 or

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