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Ray Duckler

Ray Duckler: My God, lightning strikes as people pray

Oh my God, worshippers thought, after the sky grew angry Sunday night.

It rocked their world and it rocked their church, St. John the Evangelist, leaving its congregation in awe from an unseen power.

Sources insist it wasn’t God voicing his displeasure over the sad state of the world. Instead, we’ve been told, lightning and thunder created the stir, part of the storm that swept through the region and humbled us all with its amazing fury.

And few, if any, parts of the city felt the wrath like the church over on South Main Street.

Just past 7 that night, before Father Richard Roberge and his altar boys had split through the pews and reached the front of the church, with the organ music still playing and people still settling in. . . .

Kaboom!

Children cried, worshippers hit the deck and everyone looked up, to the very high church ceiling.

“That was something else,” said Chris Tremblay, who attended the service with his wife and three children. “It was unbelievably loud. I could not describe it any other way other than to say it sounded like a bomb went off.”

Some said the was noise was deafening, while others said it was more than one eruption, resembling a string of firecrackers popping in rapid-fire succession.

Dan Andrus, the chief of Concord’s fire department, confirmed what Tremblay and others suspected, that lightning did indeed strike the church early in the storm. A log emailed to the Monitor showing the fire department’s

responses documents that firefighters were dispatched to St. John’s for “fire alarm activation” at 7:05 p.m.

It was a busy night.

“Just because I’m a geek with a calculator, I know we had 12 calls in about an hour,” Andrus said. “That would be 105,000 calls in the year, so it was a very busy time. We have three engines, a ladder truck, three ambulances and a battalion chief, and they were all scrambling, going from call to call.”

They went to East Side Drive and Pleasant Street, to Warren Street and Plum Street. Alarms sounded, small fires flared and power surges knocked out computer systems, like the one at the Division of Motor Vehicles.

For a few hours yesterday, clerks at the DMV were unable to process registrations, no doubt leaving an already cheery place even cheerier.

“The lightning in the area caused a power surge and the system destroyed or damaged some equipment,” said Jim Van Dongen, public information officer for the Department of Safety. “It did in fact put the DMV out business for a while (yesterday) morning. All systems were restored to operation before noon.”

In a report entitled Hazard Mitigation Plan, adopted by the Concord City Council last year, Concord Hospital was labeled as vulnerable to lightning strikes because of its elevation, the Heights because it is flat and, of course, tall things because they are, well, tall.

Like the Plausawa radio tower in Pembroke, knocked offline Sunday night, returning to operation yesterday, Andrus said.

And churches, with their high steeples.

South Congregational Church on Pleasant Street had its alarm system tripped, but the bigger buzz came from St. John’s, where attendees were shocked by what they heard and felt.

St. John’s holds its final weekend Mass each Sunday night at 7. While rain pounded the pavement, sounding like bacon sizzling, the sky flashed with lightning and boomed with thunder.

How frightening was this? How sudden, how loud, how strange?

Listen to Bill Eaton, who was there with his wife and two kids: “We paused and looked around to make sure nothing was falling from the ceiling and make sure everyone is okay. Everyone jumped and everyone wondered what was going on, and you could see their faces turn upward like maybe structural damage was going on or something of that nature.”

The Eatons and Tremblays had had dinner together before both families went to the St. John’s Mass. They sat together, a long line of parents and children on a typical Sunday night, at the church they’ve been praying at for years.

Moments after the rumble, Tremblay’s 6-year-old daughter cried and needed a reassuring hug.

Eaton’s wife screamed.

Some people actually went down to the floor, covering up.

“The building shook,” Tremblay said.

Mercy.

(Ray Duckler can be reached at 369-3304 or
rduckler@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @rayduckler.)

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