President Eyring Dedicates Chapel Rebuilt After Fire
Contributed By Heather Whittle Wrigley, Church News and Events
On Sunday, June 19, 2011, President Henry B. Eyring, First Counselor in the First Presidency, dedicated the newly reconstructed Longfellow Park meetinghouse in Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA, a historic, 60-year-old LDS meetinghouse that was destroyed by an accidental fire in May 2009.
Also in attendance were President Boyd K. Packer, President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, and Elder Matthew J. Eyring, Area Seventy in the North America Northeast Area, who both spoke.
“This is a place of sacred treasured memories of the Savior and His love, where we worshiped and served Him here, over the years,” President Eyring said of the chapel.
An electrical malfunction started the fire in the building’s attic during Sunday morning services. Some 300 people were in the building; all made it out safely. The fire quickly spread through the building, gutting it and causing the roof to collapse.
“It was a sickening feeling to see the damage and smell the wet, burned building,” said project manager John Bezzant, who arrived on the scene two years ago on the day after the fire. He has been involved in the rebuild since then.
The loss was particularly painful because of the meetinghouse’s role in local Church history. It was one of the first LDS meetinghouses in New England—built in the 1950s—and local members were asked to raise half of the funds needed to build the chapel.
In an interview with Mormon Times, historian Claudia Bushman recalled the sacrifice and struggle of the members: “We had no money. We were really hard up,” she said. “We all adored the building because we put blood into it. … It really signaled the great success of our congregation and our religion in New England at the time.”
The new meetinghouse retained its original property boundaries and location on a patch of ground that is a part of poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s estate.
Many locals have expressed great interest as they’ve watched the rebuilding process, Brother Bezzant said.
“From the builders and design professionals who designed and carried out the rebuilding to the first responders and disaster cleanup crews who prevented injury and further damage—they were all His instruments in rebuilding the church,” Brother Bezzant said.
The old building was mostly destroyed, but much of the new building was designed as a replica of the original because of its historical significance. The tip of the steeple is 99 feet (30 m) above ground level.
The building was originally dedicated by President David O. McKay (1873–1970) in 1956, and a number of distinguished members have attended there, including President Eyring, President Packer, and former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney.
Speaking of the Spirit, President Packer said, “It will be here when you come late at night or early in the morning. It will be here when the building is empty. I am very grateful that this chapel has been rebuilt and what we might have thought was lost came back again as soon as the chapel was built.“
The rebuilding of the Longfellow Park chapel wasn’t without its challenges, Brother Bezzant said, but “the Lord used the talents of the team to solve them all. … The result we got is a very handsome, charming, and comfortable chapel that all can be proud to be associated with and attend for decades to come.”