OCEAN CITY, Md. – A Worcester County church held its first service inside its sanctuary on Christmas Eve one year after part of the church was damaged by a fire.
St. Paul's-By-The-Sea Episcopal church in Ocean City began its Christmas Eve service at 5 p.m. with more than 60 people and their families attending.
Many in the congregation didn't think after so much damage the fire caused that they would be able to spend the holiday inside the sanctuary. "The fire was such an unexpected tragedy,” said Diane Savage, a parishioner of St. Paul's for more than 70 years. “To have been spared was a miracle. And to have it all put back and fresh and clean and to be open for Christmas Eve is beyond description," said Savage.
Last year, Ocean City police say John Raymond Sterner set himself on fire and entered St. Paul's where the fire quickly spread in the building. Sterner was killed along with St. Paul's Pastor David Dingwall who was inside the rectory at the time of the fire.
Since the tragedy, many in the community have pooled their resources together to help restore the church to its former glory, including 21-year old Jon Rothermel. "It's incredible. We've come a long way,” said Rothermel. “We've really united as a church and as a community to help get us back to where we were," he said.
Church leaders say St. Paul's will be back to its normal schedule on January 11 after a few more weeks of construction.