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‘I don’t think God made the fire’: Parishioners mourn loss of historic Spencer church in Sunday service

Members of the First Congregational Church of Spencer gathered at a church in Leicester.

The remains of the First Congregational Church of Spencer on Saturday, following a devastating fire that broke out Friday afternoon.Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff

Members of a historic Spencer church destroyed by fire Friday gathered to grieve their loss and comfort one another during a solemn but hopeful Sunday service in nearby Leicester.

The First Congregational Church of Spencer, which has roots dating to the mid-1700s, had used its building for worship since the structure that burned opened in 1863.

On Friday afternoon, a lightning strike during thunderstorms sparked a blaze that quickly engulfed the building — long a treasured source of pride for both the congregation and the wider town community.

No one was injured, officials have said, but the church was a total loss.


The Rev. Bruce MacLeod, who serves as interim pastor of the First Congregational Churches of Spencer and Leicester, spoke to parishioners of both churches during the service in Leicester on Sunday morning.

“I don’t think God made the fire... I don’t think God makes the bad things happen,” MacLeod said during the service. “I do believe God is there with us, in the midst of it. And that God is here with us to help us pick up the pieces and figure out what to do next.”

In a text message to the Globe Sunday afternoon, MacLeod said it was too early for parishioners to have a conversation about whether to rebuild.

But he indicated that the church would seek a way to remain in Spencer.

“Today was the first time we have gathered so that was our focus. We have lots of talking to do before we make big decisions about the direction and mission now,” MacLeod said. “I would say there is a desire not to abandon our role in Spencer.”

Ralph Hicks, a town selectman, said Sunday he hopes the church does rebuild and on its present site along the town’s Main Street.

Crews covered the rubble left from the fire out of concern there might be asbestos in it. A state Department of Environmental Protection spokesperson said over the weekend that the agency would be in touch with the town’s fire department to address cleanup early this week.


The fire also destroyed a cellular tower inside the steeple, which knocked out service in the area Friday afternoon. By Saturday morning, a temporary tower had been erected nearby, and cellphones were working.

Hicks said he did not know where a permanent replacement tower would be built or when construction would begin.

The church building lost Friday had also been destroyed by fire more than a century prior but rebuilt according to Mary Baker-Wood, chairperson of the Spencer Historical Commission.

The church had been in the same Main Street location since 1743. Its first building was “little more than a barn” with unfinished walls and no pews, according to a history of the congregation posted to the church’s website. A second church building erected in 1772 was destroyed in 1862 when “a superheated stove” started a fire, according to Baker-Wood.

During Sunday’s service in the Leicester church, MacLeod said that while the Spencer church building “held our encounters with the holy,” God was still with them.

The service included a baptism for a baby girl, which had been planned for the Spencer church, he said Sunday.

MacLeod took the baby into his arms and blessed her, before carrying her through the church to introduce the congregation’s newest member.


“Doesn’t she give you a sense of hope?” he asked.

Later, as members of the congregation offered prayers, one woman spoke out in praise of the firefighters who battled the fire on Friday.

“I have heard of all the people from around our community that came to help put the fire [out],” she said. “I’m grateful.”

John Hilliard can be reached at