Members of the Victoria Islamic Center know what it’s like to lose a place of worship.

“We welcome you. This is your place,” Abe Ajrami, treasurer for the Islamic Center, said Sunday morning to a group of about 30 Unitarian Universalists.

Their church rendered unserviceable by a bizarre and unfortunate car crash days earlier, members of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Victoria found themselves suddenly without a place to have their Sunday service. In that crash, a Victoria mother lost control after a collision with another car, sending her vehicle barreling through four walls and two church rooms, including its library and main worship space.

But Sunday’s service continued as planned at an auxiliary building on the Islamic center property, where the mosque destroyed by arson in January 2017 remains under reconstruction. After that fire, representatives of various Victoria religious groups, including the Victoria Unitarian Universalists, offered Islamic center members the keys to their places of worship.

Sunday, mosque members passed that generosity on.

“You can use this place as long as you want – as many Sundays as you wish,” Ajrami said. “When you’re finished, just turn out the lights.”

Coffee, donuts and fresh fruit set out by Islamic center members lay waiting on a table in the back of the room when the church congregation arrived. After taking their seats in a cozy, wood-paneled room with colorful posters explaining Islamic culture, church members began their service.

They sang the hymn “Gathered Here” followed by Bob Marley’s “Three Little Birds.” They caught up with one another, enjoying easy, shared laughter. They made personal announcements of thanks, recognizing the sale of a member’s home, the Islamic center’s hospitality and the fact that no one was injured in the crash that damaged their Crestwood Drive church Tuesday.

Church members have had services in the house at 1701 E. Crestwood Drive. since 1970, about the time Victoria Unitarians and Universalists, then two separate groups, merged under one roof.

“Universalists believe that God is too good to damn people, and Unitarians believe that people are too good to be damned by God,” said lay leader and former church president Lisa DeVries, quoting 19th-century Unitarian Universalist minister Thomas Starr King.

According to the Unitarian Universalist website, the group explores humanity and spirituality without placing restrictions on religions, beliefs and perspectives.

“We need not think alike to love alike,” the website states.

Current president Manuel Zamora estimated the Victoria Unitarian Universalists likely will spend months of Sundays at the Islamic center as they work to relocate or rebuild their own church.

“It’s going to be a slow process,” he said.

Although Zamora and other members have joked the church is now a drive-thru with open-air services, they also acknowledged the seriousness of their loss.

“On the other hand ... it was a sacred space. We have a lot of history there,” he said.

Although the church was insured, members have yet to speak with insurance representatives about the extent of their coverage. Zamora said church members have yet to decide whether the damaged church should be repaired, torn down and rebuilt, or relocated.

Wednesday, an engineer will assess the damage and offer a recommendation for either rebuilding or repairing.

Whatever course the church takes, it will cost money. As of Sunday afternoon, a GoFundMe page titled “A car hit our church” had raised almost $2,000.

Although the crash destroyed church property, including its ceremonial chalice, which was lit during services, DeVries said in her sermon the crash also is an opportunity. That sermon, she said, came to her as she worked through the debris inside the church on the day of the crash.

“We have plenty of broken pieces at the moment,” DeVries said. “But, we are going to put them back together and create something new.”

Jon Wilcox reports on courts for the Victoria Advocate. He may be reached jwilcox@vicad.com or 361-580-6515.

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Jon covers crime, public safety and the courts at the Victoria Advocate. Born in Huntsville, Ala., he grew up in Atlanta, Ga. and obtained a bachelor's degree in journalism at Texas State University.

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