Fire destroys Christ Presbyterian Church in Claremore; congregation says only the building was lost

CLAREMORE -- There were no Sunday services at Christ Presbyterian Church in Claremore today.

Only hours before their regularly scheduled worship, a fire destroyed the church building.

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After the blaze destroyed Christ Presbyterian Church last night, Minster Dave Schwenk felt lost. 

Last Sunday's sermon might be his last for a while.

"My sermon was out of John chapter 15," Schwenk said. "Jesus says, don't be surprised if the world hates you. That was the essence of it."

And after more than 20 years of serving here, he doesn't feel any anger today. He is looking at what has always been just a building to him - not his church.

"Cause in America they say, 'Where do you go to church?' We identify a building. But the church is people," Schwenk said.

Today the church, its people that is, are just thankful. Thankful that this happened when it did.

"It could have been real easy, I suppose depending on what was happening, for us to be having an event in there," Neil Thielen, Christ Presbyterian Church member, said.

Built in the early 1900s, this isn't the first time this church has been engulfed in flames.

"That end burned and they rebuilt it in the early 1900s," Schwenk said.

But it was between these walls where a building once stood – where a small but tight-knit congregation worshipped.

"People coming from all over. People would even come up last night, people we hadn't seen in 20 years, to tell us they had gone to vacation bible school here," Thielen said.

And now they move forward, looking to rebuild a building, not a church - just as their minister has preached before.

My thinking was, 'Lord, this isn't what I would choose, but then your church isn't a building. It's people,'" Schwenk said.

Claremore fire officials say they don't know how the fire started and that it is still under investigation.

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