Tragedy in Our Midst: R.M. Palmer Candy Company Disaster

Here in our Synod, on Friday, March 24, 2023, the R.M. Palmer Candy Company in West Reading, PA suffered a catastrophic explosion in one of their manufacturing buildings. This disaster killed 7 people, injured at least dozen more individuals, and changed the literal landscape of the borough of West Reading.

God is present with those who watch, weep, and wonder; those who supply material and spiritual support; and, those who walk alongside the R.M. Palmer community.

How are we helping?

  • Synod ministers and other leaders have been on the ground since the explosion.
  • There will be a prayer vigil in West Reading at 7:30 pm on Friday, March 31st. Information is here: West Reading vigil. I plan to be there myself.
  • The Berks County Community Foundation set up a community fund in conversation with the United Way. Information and a donation link is here: West Reading Fund. The offering from next week’s Chrism Service will go towards this fund.

Pastor Bruce Osterhout of Bethany Lutheran Church, West Reading shared key points with many of us yesterday afternoon, from his perspective; his writing it follows my post, see below.

Please pray with me:

Keep watch, dear Lord, with those who work, or watch, or weep this week and night, and give your angels charge over those who sleep. Tend the sick, Lord Christ; give rest to the weary, bless the dying, soothe the suffering, pity the afflicted, shield the joyous; and all for your love's sake. Amen. (ELW Evening Prayer)

O God, our very present help in trouble, bring hope and courage to all who are affected by this explosion as they wait in the ‘now what?’ Bring assurance that you will be with them in whatever lies ahead. We pray for first responders, debris clearers, funeral directors, water bearers, medical and social work personnel, and Palmer co-workers, for you are our refuge and strength. Support families in their grief. You are God, and we need you! We pray in the name of Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. (adapted from ELW Pastoral care, page 174)

We are Stronger Together in Christ,

Bishop Christopher deForest

Words from Pr. Bruce Osterhout, Bethany Lutheran Church, West Reading

  1. Berks County's first in a very long time mass casualty eventbrought together city and county firefighters, police officers, and EMS workers with great professionalism and cooperation across political lines and across the Schuylkill River!  A long weekend of searching for victims has ended. 7 confirmed dead, as many as 15-20 injured in some way.  The explosion was so strong that it moved the building's foundation 4 feet!  The WFMZ Traffic/Weather Camera on top of the Candlewood Suites Motel captured the scary footage of the explosion, as so many saw!  A Bethany Lutheran Church member delivered cases of water to the Canteen Station soon after the explosion.
  2. Berks County has now raised more than $400,000 for the victims and their families through the Community Foundation/United Way fund.  The amount grows by the hour!  A Spanish church was on the first floor of the building (now deemed unsafe) and there were apartment residents displaced.  Cause is being determined presently.
  3. This Friday night, at 7:30 pm, a Prayer Vigil originally scheduled for the middle of the bridge on Penn St/Avenue has been moved to the West Reading Fire Company Grounds/Pedestrian Bridge as PennDot would not approve a Bridge event.  A large crowd is expected. Bethany Lutheran Church, West Reading is located 2 blocks up the hill from the explosion site. Bethany has members who live on 2nd Street and is involved in planning hospitality for the Vigil.  Parking is, of course, a huge issue in the Borough of West Reading.  Bethany will be open beginning at 6 p.m. for prayer and refreshments.  The community will walk together to the Prayer Vigil, weather permitting.  (The forecast is not favorable but we will wait and see.)
  4. Bethany intends to host a First Responder Thank You event in the future. Bethany may well host a Community Grief Service and will try and link up with the Reading Hospital Chaplaincy Department to coordinate such an event.
  5. Bethany's outreach is zeroing in on the apartment dwellers who will need the most assistance.
  6. For the past 80 years, lots of West Reading residents have worked at Palmer, walking there to work.
  7. The R.M. Palmer Family is connected to Trinity, Reading, by the way.