On June 6, 2023, a viral tweet with a video of a church building fire began to receive thousands of engagements. The caption of the tweet read, "Woke LGBTQ+ church gets struck by lightning and burns to the ground."
Woke LGBTQ+ church gets struck by lightning and burns to the ground 😳 https://t.co/OzDjYkq7FO
— Eric Conn (@Eric_Conn) June 6, 2023
In this story, we've laid out the facts behind this subject, the context of the apparent implication that a higher power caused the fire, thoughts from the church's leader, and also background on the property's centuries-old history. To our surprise, that history included another fire that occurred in the 19th century.
Facts and Subjective Thinking
The video in the tweet was captured on June 2. It showed a devastating fire that destroyed First Congregational Church of Spencer in Massachusetts.
First, the tweet claimed that the church in the clip had embraced "woke LGBTQ+" people. It's true that the church had publicly posted positive messages about Pride month in recent years, according to a number of past images on its Facebook page.
Second, the tweet said the church was struck by lightning, causing it to burn to the ground. This also was true.
While these two facts of the claim were accurate, it's a subjective, evidence-free conclusion to assert the two things were linked, and that a higher power chose to burn down the church.
Even before the viral tweet that appeared to try to link the two facts, the church's leader, Rev. Bruce McLeod, had addressed parishioners and provided his own thoughts, saying, "I don't think God made the fire":
I have to say [that] I don't think God made the fire. I don't think God makes us sick. I don't think God makes the bad things happen. I don't think God does it to teach us things. I don't think God does it to punish us. 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.
McLeod is the interim pastor of both the Spencer and Leicester congregational churches. He made these remarks two days after the fire on June 4, as both churches met in Leicester for the weekly Sunday service.
Note: This portion of the service begins at the 24:31 mark in this video.
Lightning Strike Caught on Camera
On June 4, the Spencer Fire Department Facebook page shared a number of pictures from the day of the fire. According to the page's comments, two of the photographs showed the moments from during and after the lightning strike that caused the blaze.
"That is the bolt that struck [First] Congregational Church," one of the page managers for the Spencer Fire Department commented. "This was taken during the storm and the subsequent picture shows the smoke in the background."
The Church's History and Previous Fire
On June 3, The Boston Globe published information about the history of the site where First Congregational Church of Spencer had stood.
Citing Mary Baker-Wood, the chair of the Spencer Historical Commission, as well as the website for the church, the Globe reported that a Congregational church was believed to have gathered for services on the same land going all the way back to 1743.
The church's website said that the first building was "little more than a barn."
A second, larger church was constructed in 1772. It burned down on Jan. 1, 1862.
On Jan. 13, 1862, the Gazette & Courier of Greenfield reported the following of the cause of the blaze:
A fire which recently consumed the Congregational church at Spencer, originated in the employment of two boys to heat the house for a preparatory lecture. The boys crowded in the hemlock wood till the stoves were white hot, and a little while after they left, the church was wrapped in flames. Nothing was saved but the large Bible. The church was insured for $3,000 in the Merchants and Farmers' office of Worcester.
After the fire of 1862, a new building was erected and dedicated in 1863. It survived for around 160 years before the lightning strike destroyed it.
Other than the historical information on the church's website, its leadership included the following on the homepage, "No matter who you are or where you are on life's journey, you are welcome here."