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CLEARLAKE - There were no services Sunday at the Methodist churches in Middletown, Kelseyville or Clearlake Oaks. And there were, of course, no services at Lower Lake Community United Methodist Church, either, which burned down Aug. 14 in the Clayton fire.

All those congregations, along with members from the three other Lake County Methodist congregations, gathered instead Sunday at the Clearlake Community Methodist church.

The small church building on Pearl Street was packed. About 150 people filed in for the 9:45 a.m. service, nearly three dozen of them from the 131-year-old Lower Lake church.

Leaders from the various Lake County Methodist churches preached, and members from various church choirs joined together, too. As Methodists from all over the county squeezed in, dozens of chairs had to be brought to accommodate them.

“Rise up church with broken wings,” the choir sang as the service began. “Fill this place with songs again Of our God who reigns on high. By His grace again we’ll fly.” The lyrics to the song, “Shout to the North,” appeared on screen next to images of the ash pile that once was the Lower Lake Community UMC, its hand-hewn redwood beams, square-cut nails and stained glass now a pile of smoldering rubble. So far they’ve found the church bell, a few decorative metal pieces, a mosaic and a handful of other things church members hope to incorporate into the new building.

The Rev. John Pavoni, of Lower Lake Community United Methodist Church, worked all week with other members of the Lake County Circuit to organize the unified service — most closely with the Rev. Shannon Kimbell-Auth, of both the Clearlake and Middletown churches.

“Building is what the church does, not what we are,” Kimbell-Auth said in her sermon. “We are not a building. Church is who we are, not where we meet on Sunday morning, and yet we get so attached to our buildings. This morning we asked everybody to leave their building so we could be church together, so we could be building community together, so we could be reminded that building is what we do, but church is who we are.

“It was a building that was destroyed in the fire, not the church. Not Lower Lake Community United Methodist Church. No. They, you, are not destroyed.”

The fire broke out Aug. 13, and is one of a dozen fires 40-year-old Damin Pashilk, of Clearlake, is accused of setting over the past year. He was arrested Aug. 15, and charged Wednesday. He has not entered a plea.

“Some may not agree, but I ask for prayers for the gentleman who did this, because obviously there’s something wrong there,” Pavoni said during Sunday’s service, wearing a stole with rainbow-colored butterflies — a symbol of resurrection. “I ask for prayers for all of those people who are affected directly or indirectly.”

Pavoni, who has been with the Lower Lake church for three years, woke up at 5:30 a.m. Aug. 14. He made his way to the church, a sermon prepared about the rejuvenating benefits that can come from a fire.

Just before the service, Jo Bennett, a 74-year-old Lower Lake church member, texted Pavoni. She wanted to be sure there would still be a service in the face of the growing, though comparatively still small, Clayton fire, and the accompanying smoke.

Yes, there would be a service, Pavoni replied, and Bennett continued to get ready.

Just before heading out the door of her Clearlake home, though, she thought to check once more. This time, Pavoni advised her to stay home — concerned about her asthma. She did, and wouldn’t find out until the next day the church was lost in the fire.

When Pavoni locked the doors to the church about 1:30 p.m., he said, the sky was blue and the smoke had cleared from the air.

“By 3 o’clock, the fire had turned around, come back and slammed the area,” he said. “I tried to get down there, and I couldn’t, so I knew something was wrong. From where I was I could see flames and it was in the direction of the church and there are only a certain number of blocks so you can calculate over. And then I saw some pictures on the Cal Fire website. ... And that’s the way I found out the church went up.”

His car, which was left in the church’s parking lot, was a loss, too, though the church’s community building next door was saved. That’s where members will gather this Sunday, Aug. 28, for service.

“Some people have been (at Lower Lake Community UMC) 70 years,” he said. “Three-quarters of their lives were spent in that church, baptizing their kids, getting married, burying their husbands. It was all being done in that church. It is their memories that is the hardest part to replace.”

Efforts have already been made to create a book full of the church’s memories, to write down the stories of its oldest members, to create a record — because no records are left, Pavoni said.

“The only thing we have is what might be in the safety deposit box,” he said. “We’re going to try to create records from the people, and see what we get.”

You can reach Staff Writer Christi Warren at 521-5205 or christi.warren@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @SeaWarren.

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