They worried about the wax. What if, in their traditional candlelight Christmas Eve service, the DeBary Presbyterians dripped candle wax on the carpet of the Seventh-Day Adventist church?
This is what it is like to be a church without a home for the holidays.
They feel fully welcomed by the Adventists, but the Presbyterians are always aware that this house of God belongs to someone else. Things that were of no concern in their own church become something they must think about in another congregation's church.
"It's like you're visiting," said Annie Lovett, 62, who became a DeBary Presbyterian nine years ago. "Be careful what you do. You don't want to mess up other people's things."
It feels something like spending Christmas with the relatives and something like Christmas with friends and something like Christmas in the house of strangers.
The two congregations use the sanctuary on different days — the Adventists on Saturday and the Presbyterians on Sunday — so the two churches don't see each other or really know each other.
Although the Adventists graciously offered their kitchen to the Presbyterian ladies to use for coffee after Sunday worship services, the women decided to discontinue making coffee after church. That would feel too much like brewing a pot of coffee in the kitchen of somebody you don't know, said Chris Fraile.
"We didn't want the responsibility for breaking anything," said Fraile, 81, a DeBary Presbyterian for 21 years.
Though the Adventists are strangers, they are also like friends who share something in common with their guests, and also like family — in the sense that all Christians are related by faith, said Janet Williams, who feels right at home in the Adventist church.
"It doesn't matter who pays the mortgage. This is God's home to anyone who comes here," said Williams, 73, who joined the DeBary church 17 years ago.
Nonetheless, the Presbyterians find themselves deviating from routine to fit their spiritual lives around the schedules of the Adventists. The Friday night holiday potluck dinner and the Wednesday evening gift exchange were held after a recent Sunday service because the Adventists use the church Wednesdays and Fridays. The potluck turned into sandwiches and salads because the kitchen lacks a stove for heating dishes.
The Presbyterian's Christmas Cantata also had to be restaged to fit the smaller sanctuary of the Adventist church. The adult choir dressed in white shirts and black slacks and skirts because its old-timey carolers' costumes were lost to the fire. The youth group, re-enacting the Nativity scene, wore shepherd and wise-men costumes and angel wings and halos belonging to the Deltona Presbyterians and the United Methodists in DeBary.
"Not only are we in somebody else's church, but we're wearing somebody else's clothing," said youth director Debbie Seelinger, 49.
There was also the concern of commingling poinsettias. The Presbyterians traditionally decorate their church with poinsettias purchased in the memory of loved ones. The names of those being remembered are printed in the church bulletin, and family members take the poinsettias home with them after Christmas.
But the Adventists decorate the sanctuary with their own poinsettias.
"They do poinsettias as well. How do you keep from getting them all mixed up?" said the Rev. Nathan Wheeler, the DeBary Presbyterian minister.
So this year, the Presbyterians decided to forgo the purchase of poinsettias and instead make donations to the Duvall Presbyterian Home for the developmentally disabled near DeLand.
Members of the DeBary church miss decorating their sanctuary for Christmas. All of its decorations, including a Nativity set, were lost in the fire, said longtime member Alice Johnston. They have declined offers of donated decorations because they have no church in which to store them and, more importantly, no church in which to hang them. The Adventists already have their own Christmas decorations.
The biggest change this season for the Presbyterians is the traditional candlelight service. Every Christmas Eve, the DeBary church, with its soaring, wooden-beamed sanctuary, would fill with people, each holding a white candle with a paper skirt to catch the dripping wax. The flame would pass from one candle to the next until the whole church flickered with candlelight. Then the church lights would go out. In the dark, their faces illuminated by the hand-held candles, the congregation would sing "Silent Night."
When the song was over, the lights would return, low and subdued. Everyone would blow out the candles and silently leave the church.
This year, the fear of dripping wax and bringing fire inside somebody else's church caused a change of plans. On Christmas Eve, the Presbyterians will file out of the Adventist church, form a circle outdoors, light their candles and sing "Silent Night."
It won't be the same, but maybe that's not all bad, Wheeler said. In the loss of their church building, perhaps change is possible that might never be considered otherwise. Maybe being Presbyterian in an Adventist church is the opportunity to try out new traditions.
"It allows us to do the same thing, but in a different manner," said Wheeler, who joined the church in January. "This may open up a completely different avenue of doing things than they had thought of in previous years."
Eloísa Ruano González of the Sentinel staff contributed to this report. Jeff Kunerth can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 407-420-5392.