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Scott G Winterton, Deseret News
Jeff and Erin Carnley sit with their niece Tylee Rutland and other members of the Clearfield Community Church to celebrate Palm Sunday at Wasatch Elementary School Sunday, March 24, 2013, the church is meeting at the school after their building burned.
There might be a lot to be discouraged about, to be frustrated or angry about, and there always is. To say we haven't grieved would be absolutely wrong. But I saw us going forward today. —Joe Umbriaco, church's education chairman

CLEARFIELD — Members of the Clearfield Community Church held Palm Sunday services at Wasatch Elementary School, eager to prove that the fire which ravaged their church building on Tuesday could not prevent them from celebrating one of Christianity’s most important days.

Pastor John Parsley said the church tried to press forward as usual despite missing some materials that were planned for the day’s services.  

“It was a different location of course, and we had some paper palms the children had made that were destroyed in the fire, so I guess you could call it a palm-less Sunday,” Parsley said. “But there was the same celebration of the spirit of the day. Some persons who haven’t been here for a while showed up, so that’s good.”

The church building has been a part of the Clearfield Community Church’s identity since it was built at 500 East 200 South in 1945. But Parsley and other church leaders urged members to view the church as a family of Christians rather than the building itself.

“The building is full of memories and happenings – weddings and funerals and baptisms,” said Richard Axmann, who served as pastor of the church from 1995-2008. “But we assume God has a better plan for us. Losing the building won’t change the mission of the church.”

While the congregation is planning to rebuild and move forward with faith, it’s understandable to grieve the loss of the building, said the church’s education chairman, Joe Umbriaco.

“There might be a lot to be discouraged about, to be frustrated or angry about, and there always is. To say we haven’t grieved would be absolutely wrong. But I saw us going forward today,” Umbriaco said.

The fire started in the basement of the church and may be linked to a faulty computer monitor. But congregants were not focused on that Sunday:

“If Christ is alive today, then we have hope. (The fire has) really helped to highlight the importance of this time of year,” Umbriaco said.

Kathy Russell has attended Clearfield Community Church since she was 12 and now takes her friends and family there. Russell will miss her memories from the old building, but said members will be able to move on from the tragedy.

“It’s been a part of my life since I moved here from Mississippi as a child,” Russell said. “But I’m optimistic. … It’s a new beginning for us.”

Clearfield city officials and members of the Clearfield Fire Department who put out the blaze also attended Palm Sunday services.

“The church is the congregation, not the structure,” Mayor Don Wood told those who were in attendance. “We see it in the goodness and the heart of the people here. … Clearfield Community Church is an important part of this community. We are here for you. We care about you. You are our brothers and sisters.”

The congregation of about 150 will meet at Wasatch Elementary School through at least the end of April. Parsley expects it will take about 18 months for the church to operate out of its own building again.  

“We’re just incredibly grateful nobody was injured,” Parsley said. “You always look at your flock to see how they’re feeling. And there was a feeling of gratitude today.”

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