By NEIL ZAWICKI
Cornerstone Community Church Pastor Paul Somerville believes everything happens for a reason.
With that conviction, he and his congregation are moving forward with optimism after the August 16 car crash that left his church on Bombardier Road heavily damaged.
Somerville, a former police officer, awoke to a phone call just after 3 a.m. that morning to learn a group of teens on a joyride drove a late model Toyota RAV4 through three walls of his church. The car punched through the outer wall of the church at 90 mph and sailed five feet into the basketball court, continuing at speed through another wall while still airborne, punching through a third wall and then traveling at least 60 feet, coming to a stop only because it collided with the concrete basement wall on the opposite end of the building.
Nobody was injured, although two passengers were transported to the University of Vermont Medical Center for observation. Police say all were wearing seat belts and that airbags deployed. The vehicle is a total loss.
Since then, Somerville said residents have donated at least $2,000 to help rebuild.
“It’s been a real blessing to hear people call and say ‘We love your church,’” said Somerville.
While most have offered support, others, said Somerville, have understandably come by just to witness the damage, pulling up and snapping photos of the boarded up hole in the corner of the building. Because of the spectator traffic, Somerville said he grabbed a can of spray paint and added a message to the damaged wall that reads, “God is in this!”
“That was my reaction, a little out of frustration,” he said. “I wanted to keep the dignity of the church, and I figured if people are going to drive by and stare and gawk then I’m putting up a sign.”
Somerville said the message is not necessarily that God caused the crash, but that God has a hand in how it happened and why.
“You know, scripture tells us that ‘What was meant for evil, he’ll use for good,’” said Somerville. “We refuse to see anything but opportunity and good things from this.”
Somerville uses the word miracle when he talks about how the crash played out, pointing to the oak tree the teens missed by inches as they struck the building.
“If they’d hit that tree, it would have been a very different story,” he said. “And I know I’m the pastor in the room here, but when I look at the tire tracks on the lawn, they’re perfectly straight leading up to where they hit the building.”
Somerville has since met with the kids responsible for the crash and their parents, and he said there is no animosity at all. He also met with an estimator on Monday with plans to hire a contractor to not only repair the damage, but improve the space. He said insurance should cover the damage, and expects it to run to tens of thousands of dollars.
“We’d like to add some classrooms down here and see about making other improvements,” he said. “There’s just been an amazing outpouring from the community.”