WESTPORT, Conn. The feeling of hope was almost as palpable as the smell of smoke that hung in the damp autumn air as several hundred people assembled Monday night in front of the boarded-up Saugatuck Congregational Church for a flashlight vigil following Sunday night's fire that heavily damaged the historic building.
The crowd, made up of parishioners, neighbors and friends as well as many who wanted to demonstrate support in a time of crisis, stood along the Post Road and said prayers, sang hymns and listened to clergy members from Westport and surrounding towns voice their own words of solace and encouragement.
Rabbis and reverends took their turns at the microphone, all vowing support to the Saugatuck parishioners in whatever way was necessary. The Rev. John Branson of Christ & Holy Trinity Episcopal Church in Westport joined others in saying, "We stand ready to help you, and to pray for you."
Rabbi Jeremy Wiederhorn of the Conservative Synagogue of Westport, Weston and Wilton, said a church is not the building, but rather the people who gather within it to worship. Although the flames may have ravaged the physical structure of Saugatuck Congregational, he said, the church members, while tested, will remain together and emerge from this trial even stronger.
After the clergy spoke, those assembled were invited to offer their own prayers. Many gave thanks that no one was injured in the blaze, and others asked for courage and patience in the rebuilding that awaits. But the prayer that gathered a loud "hallelujah" from the crowd was "thanks that we put in a firewall 12 years ago, which is why the church is still standing."
After more prayers and hymns, the crowd dispersed into the evening. Although the smell of smoke lingered, somehow the situation seemed far less dire than it had less than 24 hours before.
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