By Ashley Perham
Baptist and Reflector
NASHVILLE — Crievewood Baptist Church was one of four Nashville churches affected by arson the night of June 25, 2019. Although the arson caused over one million dollars in damage, the church is rebuilding. And forgiving.
Alan Fox, 26, admitted to the arson and at the end of August, sent an apology letter to Ray Miller, pastor, and the church. Miller said Fox explained that a combination of trauma and drugs had led him to act violently the night of the fire.
A few months before the fire, Crievewood had studied forgiveness. “This is our moment,” Miller told the church after the fire.
In a Facebook post the day after the fire, Miller wrote to the church: “I believe we will have the opportunity to extend God’s forgiveness to this man one day.”
Yet when that time came, Miller himself found forgiveness “surprisingly hard.” He reread Fox’s letter 10 times, yet it was some time before he was able to reply, he said.
However, Miller said the Holy Spirit prompted him to reply on a Wednesday afternoon near Thanksgiving.
In his letter, Miller shared that he had been visiting family the night of the fire and returned to Nashville from Houston the next day.
The first Sunday after the fire, the church family could still smell smoke in the church, he wrote.
Miller also shared how Crievewood had been praying for Fox and how the tragedy had turned the church to focus on God’s faithfulness.
“What you gave the night of (the fire) was an opportunity to test our faith,” Miller wrote. “While there has been much damage to the building, the collective soul of our church, while stressed, has been faithful because God is faithful.”
In the time since the fire, Crievewood has been focusing on a phrase from Isaiah 61:3 where God promises “beauty out of ashes.” The experience has reminded the church family of God’s faithfulness and what is truly important, Miller said.
The phrase has also served as the slogan for the church’s renovation. The fire was set in the basement of the church and filled the sanctuary with ash and smoke. The whole church, pews and HVAC system had to be cleaned, and the carpet had to be replaced.
Yet, Crievewood has found physical beauty in the ashes. In the midst of the renovation process, Crievewood redesigned the back of their sanctuary, Miller said.
As they worked on the building, they discovered that they had been covering up a stained glass window depicting the Holy Spirit as a dove. The sun shines through right as Sunday’s worship service starts, Miller said.
As of now, Crievewood is set to have their first service back in their sanctuary on March 1. It will be a day celebrating the beauty of God’s faithfulness revealed through the ashes. B&R