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Neighboring church opens doors to fire-displaced congregation - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

Neighboring church opens doors to fire-displaced congregation

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BURLINGTON, Vt. -

It's Sunday morning, yet the College Street Congregational Church stands empty -- no bells or hymns sounding from within.  A fire that ripped through the church steeple on Wednesday caused over a million dollars in damage and left church members with no place to go.

But bells were not silenced nearby, where church members were invited to hold temporary sermons at the First Congregational Church on South Winooksi Street. "I think that basic impulse to give and to be generous is very much a part of our human nature," said the church's Rev. Peter Cook.

Cook says after hearing of the fire, their church reached out to help in anyway possible. The displaced church members say the invitation was greatly appreciated -- but wasn't quite the same. "I miss being in my regular pew, but it was fun to be here today too," said College St. church member Pat Morgan.

Morgan says the church has been a huge part of her life and that she has been a member for 38 years. She says the fire was devastating, especially since it followed a $2-million fundraiser to improve the church. "But at least it's not flesh and blood. It's wood and stone you can replace. But it will be difficult," she said. "It didn't destroy the joy of this community being together."

Police say the fire was arson and arrested Aliaksandr Bychkou,32. He told police he heard voices telling him to go to the bell tower and look for treasure. Bychkou is a citizen of Belarus and is being turned over to the feds for possible deportation.

Despite darker times for the church, Sunday was a day for laughter, smiles and songs. "They have all had a very good time here, a good time of receiving the love of this congregation and sharing their love among themselves. And they will take that with them in the future and do the same for others," said College St. Congregational's Rev. Charles Purinton.

Purinton says the group has undergone a very stressful experience and now healing is what's important -- something that members like Pat Morgan say they have faith can happen.
"I thought the mood today was that people were determined to move forward -- I expected that, I expected that," she said.

A church determined to move forward and leave the ashes and rubble behind them.

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