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Fire can’t stop church’s hunger ministry

Church and food pantry destroyed, group’s CROP Hunger Walk proceeds

May 3, 2011

A church building on fire, surrounded by a firetruck and people

Mayfield (N.Y.) Presbyterian Church caught fire after being struck by lightning. —Photo courtesy of Church World Service.

MAYFIELD, N.Y.

The loss of  historic Mayfield (N.Y.) Presbyterian Church building last week to lightning and a devastating fire could not stop the congregation’s determination to help the world’s hungry.

A scheduled CROP Hunger Walk took place as planned Sunday (May 1), despite the April 28 fire that destroyed the church’s facilities.

The upstate New York church housed a community food pantry and was the meeting point for the local CROP Hunger Walk, one of the country’s oldest such charity walks and one of some 1,600 walks held yearly across the U.S. which support both local hunger programs as well as the global hunger and poverty work of humanitarian agency Church World Service.

Instead of from the church building, the CROP Walk started from a tent set up outside the church’s charred structure.

“It wasn’t even a question that we’d continue the walk,” the Rev. Bonnie Orth, Mayfield’s pastor, said. “It didn’t even cross our mind not to do it. This is a very mission-minded church, and if anyone can get through this, it’s this church.

“People know the church isn’t just the building,” she said. For now, the congregation will meet at the Mayfield Methodist Church, across the street from the destroyed Presbyterian church. Orth said she expects the church will rebuild.

Carol Cownie, who heads mission outreach work at Mayfield Presbyterian Church, said community support for the church, its work and the food pantry will be strong.

“We actually need the CROP Hunger Walk this weekend, to pull us together,” she said the day after the fire. “We’re a church that hangs together. It’s the kind of church we are.”

Cownie said it is not yet clear where the food pantry will relocate in the community, but that support for the walk underscores the need for a food pantry in the community of about 6,400 people. Twenty-five percent of the money raised during the walk will go to the Mayfield food pantry.

“Yes, the church burned down, but the big news is that the church is not a building but the people who do the work of the church with or without a building,” said Douglas Anderson, regional director for CWS and CROP Hunger Walks in upstate New York.

“This is perfect testimony to heroic volunteers who believe in us so very much,” he said, “and in the purpose for which we exist, serving the neediest people on the planet, abroad, and at home in rural, poverty-stricken Fulton County of upstate New York, one of the poorest per capita income counties in our region.”

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