Arson investigators are looking into the cause of a massive fire that tore through a church in the Oregon town of Arlington Tuesday, leaving nothing but a pile of debris and a shell of the building that once stood.
Arlington Church of the Nazarene's building, which was built in the 1890s and was the oldest building in downtown Arlington, is described as "a total loss" in a post made to the church's Facebook page.
"There is sad news to report. This morning the church building burnt. It was a complete loss. But I can tell you the church will survive. We are the church and we will make it through. God is bigger than a fire. We will continue to lean on him and we will rebuild," the post said.
A parishioner spotted the flames from his home and alerted Pastor David Gossett early this morning.
Gossett, who became the lead pastor in September, ran to the church, but it was already engulfed in flames.
"What was going through my mind was, God's bigger than this," he said.
Connie Jo Yutzie, who was the church's pastor during different times from 1997 through this summer, was overcome with emotions as she looked at the burned shell of the building.
"This is our church," she said, her eyes welling, "And I know it's just a building, but the memories that are tied to it…"
It's not clear what caused the fire, which was first reported at 4:36 a.m.
On July 9, a suspicious fire damaged the outside of the church. Smoke and water damaged the interior extensively.
Repair work was nearing completion. Gossett hoped to have services inside the church by Christmas.
"They had just painted it so the soot was gone. It just looked shiny bright and clean ," said Yutzie. "And so we were really looking forward to getting back in there."
Gilliam County deputies have launched an investigation into the fire with the help of the Oregon State Police Arson Unit and ATF agents. They haven't determined whether the fire from last July is related to the most recent blaze.
Parishioners will continue meeting in the neighboring youth center building. Church leaders said they will rebuild.
"The church is the people, the people in the building," said Gossett. "The church survived today, no matter what happens to the building, the church survived."
Arlington is located a little more than two hours east of Portland along I-84 on the way to Pendleton.
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