Entry 1: July 5, 2017
Email to the community from Sarah Williams, Church Administrator
RE: Fire at the Rectory
There was a fire upstairs in the rectory today around midday. The whole family is here; Bruce was back from his trip. There is considerable property damage, but we are very glad to say that everyone is okay and there were no major injuries. We do not yet know how it started. More information will come soon.
Entry 5: August 2, 2017
From The Clarion (our monthly newsletter)
The St. Clement’s community has rallied in support of the O’Neill family and the rectory. A heartfelt thanks to all for what you have done and will do to help our parish and Bruce and family recover from this fire.
The fire in the rectory on July 5 caused considerable damage to the building and destroyed or damaged most of the personal possessions of Bruce, Michele and Jeremy.
Michele suffered smoke inhalation and sustained second-degree burns on her hands and face while fighting the blaze. We give thanks that these injuries were not serious and that Michele is making a rapid recovery.
The blaze was intense and generated considerable smoke and heat. In fact, the fire was so hot that the panes of glass in Jeremy’s bedroom were actually melted.
While the active fire was largely confined to the second floor, the impact of heat, water and smoke are clear throughout the rectory. Because of the extensive damage, the entire second floor and attic will be stripped down to the studs. In addition, on the first floor, the ceiling of the kitchen has already been removed, as have sections of the ceiling and walls in the dining room, which suffered significant water damage.
As the smoke from the fire moved out along the ceiling into the central hall on the second floor, it stained the walls with soot. When firefighters removed a framed picture from the south wall, they discovered that the smoke had stained the wall in the pattern of a heart. It is a striking image.
This smoke stain is an emblem for the recovery process. It reminds us that it will take “heart” to repair our rectory and support Bruce, Michele, and Jeremy as they recover from the personal losses and injuries they suffered as a result of the fire.
The labor-intensive process of cleaning up has started. A wide range of professionals are assessing the building and its contents, with the goal of beginning the active phase of reconstruction as soon as possible. There has been a steady stream of people viewing the damage, including clean-up crews, the insurance adjuster, city inspectors, and candidates for general contractor.
-- David Myles, senior warden
Entry 4: July 26, 2017
Email to the community
The full scope of the damage to the rectory is becoming clearer. While the active fire was confined largely to the northeast corner and central hall of the second floor, the impact of heat, water and smoke are considerable. It seems likely that the entire second floor and attic will need to have the walls and ceilings completely removed and replaced due to fire and permeation by smoke. In addition on the first floor, the ceiling of the kitchen has already been removed, as have sections of the ceiling and walls in the dining room.
There has been a steady stream of people viewing the damage, including clean-up crews, insurance adjuster, city inspectors and candidates for general contractor.
A Fire Recovery task force has been created to serve as a focal point for recovery efforts.
Entry 3: July 12, 2017
Sermon Transcript, Sunday, July 7, 2017
Sermon, 5th Sunday After Pentecost
“Fire in the Rectory”
St. Clement’s Episcopal Church, Berkeley
W. Mark Richardson
We all gather this morning under quite different circumstances from just a week ago, stunned by the fire that took such a heavy toll on the home of the O’Neill family. Our hearts go out to Bruce, Michele and Jeremy in their grief over loss, and in the shock after such a trauma as this which takes its own time in passing.
We are so grateful that everyone in the family is safe, and that Michele’s injuries will heal. In the news after fire, tornado, or earthquake, we often see people on camera standing in front of homes completely destroyed but thankful that their family members are safe. We feel that today.
Sometimes, however, the hidden message is that we should only care about loss of life and be embarrassed about our grief over material things. But we do grieve over the loss of things and I think for good reason. Lost possessions are not just ‘things’; they represent deep and powerful memories and relationships in our personal histories. A message I heard over and over after the Oakland Hills fire of 1991 was that the possessions themselves were not alone the issue; they were symbols of our relationships, the carriers of family stories. The grief of loss is in the memories of life embedded in the objects no longer with us.
I’m guessing that Jeremy would have taken certain items to school with him this summer, not just because he could put them to good use, but because like mementos (Latin for ‘remembrances’) they would have been tangible reminders of the love and nurturing coming from family and friends in his youth, links to his personal history. These bonds will be there for him still, and now take a different form.
Some of our congregation just returned from Family Camp at Bishop’s Ranch. For many years my own family took this to be an important annual ritual; our children would not let us miss it. And one of the reasons is that through life together, intentional and intensely lived through play and worship, building of friendship, sharing of family roles with each other’s children, we learned and we formed memories in ways that family and friends cannot do alone. I have this old bag that I painted during the family camp arts and crafts hour as our children worked away on similar projects at my side. Its now an old tote bag, and I have better ones at home. But it brings back memories, affectionate connections with people, and inklings of a kind of mutual care into which God is drawing us.
The communities that followed Jesus needed to write down their memories of this transformative figure who had changed them. They did not leave it to immaterial passing thoughts. Rather, they committed to public record the key relationships of the Christ story, teachings and actions that clothed the wisdom they had received. It was a way of being in the world centered in relationship. And the stories contained objects we hang onto in our own recall of the story of Jesus: waters at the well and at baptism, bread and a cup of wine, fair linens and crosses and much more. The objects are made intelligible by linking us to the central figure of our faith, and to relationships, which are built into the meaning Jesus has for us.
The point of all of this is the link to the community dimension of our spiritual life at its core. We are more ourselves in the company of others, in our bonds of affection, than we are in isolation. Tragedy, whether by fire or by some other means, takes us back to these connections, to a faith deeply grounded in community. And our material lives, our possessions, are meaningful especially insofar as they are markers of relationships.
The famous words in Matthew this morning bear repeating: “Come to me you who are weary and carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest; take my yoke upon you and learn from me for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” These words, on the surface at least, are not characteristic of what we know about the way of Jesus. His burden was not light, his path not easy. But he calls us to something that lightens our path because it is centered in him, and in a burden made lighter by bearing it together. That’s exactly what a yoke is all about. Part of the truth in this luring into his presence is the sharing in the tasks and burdens of life.
I am mindful of the many times Bruce has been there to pray at the bed side, to be the pastoral friend, and one who gathers resources in support of someone in our community in a time of need. He leads pastorally in what is truly a community task that others in this congregation take on as well, of sharing the yoke of Christ’s ministry.
And now the O’Neills need our outstretched hands and hearts, our prayers and our love. Jesus gives us the image of making a task easier precisely because it is shared. It is the community dimension of our spiritual life.
In the end we have to name the difference between loss of possessions and loss of hope and lingering despair. We can lose one without losing the other. I want to take a moment to share a thought directly with the youngest O’Neill: Jeremy, you are about to go away to college and there are lots of thing you would have taken with you, which you won’t be taking; they were lost in the fire. But something of more importance still lies before you, and it is the wonder and exploration of future possibilities. And this future anticipation will build on the bond of love that has ushered you forward at this point in your life—the love, nurturing and affection of family and friends. This is not lost but now placed in new perspective that will only be gained over time.
The truth about the Christian faith is that it is radically social; it is not about the journey of individual souls into life with God. It is much messier than that. The realism of our struggles together—our successes and our brokenness and yes our traumas—are brought to this altar where we ask God to transform the gifts of our imperfect lives so that we may be given as Christ’s own body for the life of the world. Jesus tells us to take on this yoke together and learn from him, united with one another in pure affection as we prayed in the collect.
“Grant, O loving God, to all who are bound up in the effects of suffering and loss this day the sense of fellowship with others and the faith and knowledge of your love, and give them your peace which passes understanding, for the sake of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen”
Carrie Horsey is coordinating a Meal Train for the O'Neill Family. Click here to sign up.
Entry 2: July 11, 2017
Email to the community from the St. Clement's Vestry
Dear St. Clement’s Community:
As many of you know, we suffered a serious fire in the rectory on Wednesday, July 5. Bruce, Michele, and Jeremy are profoundly grateful for the outpouring of support they’ve received from the parish community, friends, and neighbors of St. Clement’s in the days since then. They give thanks that no one was seriously injured, although Michele suffered smoke inhalation and minor burns and was briefly hospitalized. Jeremy lost all of his possessions, just at the time he is getting ready to leave for college. The O’Neill family is currently living with neighbors, although as time passes, a longer-term solution may be necessary. If a need arises, Bruce will share that with the community.
The recovery process is already beginning. Yesterday, the insurance adjuster made his first visit to the rectory and laid out the process through which the restoration will take place. The fire was most intense on the second floor of the house, although the adjuster assured us the structure is restorable. However, every room has been damaged in some way by fire, smoke, or water. As a result, making it habitable again will be a multi-step process that will unfold over the next nine to twelve months—this is not a sprint, but rather a marathon.
In the coming days and weeks, there will be many ways that we can all help out; as the list of tasks grows, specific requests will go out the members of the St. Clement’s community. We have posted a sign-up sheet (Sarah Williams is referring to it as “Meals for O’Neills”) so that interested volunteers can provide dinners for them without duplication. (To visit the sign-up sheet, click the link below.) And as time progresses, we may seek financial assistance for aspects of the recovery that are outside the scope of the insurance policy. Regular updates on the recovery and restoration will appear in the weekly email announcements, at Sunday announcements, and in the Clarion. You can visit the church web site for updates:
Many thanks to all for your thoughts and prayers for the O’Neill family and the St. Clement’s community. I am confident that through our recovery from this fire, we will grow in fellowship and faith.
St. Clement's Vestry