By: Christa Meland
Just three months after celebrating its 160th anniversary, Church in the Maples in Norwood Young America caught fire and was effectively demolished on Sunday night. The small United Methodist congregation, which has a large historical footprint in its community, is seeking prayers as members grieve and wait to find out what’s next.
Rev. Eli Somers, a newly licensed local pastor who was appointed to the church in July, said no one was inside at the time of the fire. The local fire chief and insurance adjuster have indicated there was no foul play or arson, and the fire was most likely due to an electrical issue. But the building’s roof is entirely caved in, a large bell fell from the bell tower where it sat, the windows are gone, the stained glass melted, and the interior beams and walls have crumbled.
Not much within the building is salvageable, but the bell itself was recovered. Somers said it’s uncertain at this point whether the pews are simply charred on the outside or completely destroyed. He hopes that perhaps the wood from the pews can be used to create a new structure to hold the bell.
At this point, the congregation is still in shock and mourning—particularly a 62-year member who was born, baptized, confirmed, and lived his entire life in that church. But Somers said God has been present amid the devastation.
“Area pastors from every denomination have offered for us to be able to hold services in their churches, and there have been lots of questions about what the community can do,” he said.
For the remainder of this year, Church in the Maples will worship at Arlington UMC, the other church in Somers’ two-point charge. Then in early 2019, the congregation—which averages five to 10 in weekly worship—will meet at Church of Peace in Norwood Young America. Meanwhile, Minnesota Conference leaders will work with Somers and the congregation as they say goodbye to their building, which will need to be torn down, and determine plans for the future.
Somers said Christmas will have a new meaning for Church in the Maples this year, but it still provides an opportunity to experience light and hope.
“In Advent, we focus on the hope, the love, the joy, and the peace of Christ even in darkness,” said Somers. “This is already a poignant time for us to look at fellow men and women and open our hearts to them. This will be a time for our congregation to meet Christ in a way we haven’t before.”
Somers has shared that same message with half a dozen news teams that have reported on the fire, and he sees it as an opportunity for evangelism. “I’ve been able to talk about the hope that the Christ-child brings,” he said.
On Monday, All Saints Lutheran Church in Norwood Young America hosted a community prayer service and open house for Church in the Maples. It was an opportunity to grieve, pray, and share memories made at the church through the years.
This coming Saturday at 7 p.m., there will be another prayer service at Arlington UMC. Somers invites all Minnesota United Methodists not only to pray for Church in the Maples, but also to be present at that service to offer support.
“If others can make it to our prayer service on Saturday, that would be very powerful for congregants to see,” said Somers. “We are The United Methodist Church, and this is an opportunity to demonstrate for our parishioners what it means to be part of a church that’s united across cities, counties, states, countries, and the world.”
Meanwhile, Somers will focus on being there for his congregation and ushering them through this time of grief and change.
“I will continue to love Church in the Maples and share the gospel as they transition into whatever their future is,” he said.
Christa Meland is director of communications for the Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.
Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church