By Rick Wolcott
“This is so sad,” said Robert Crew. “It’s a really big loss – a loss that isn’t coming back.”
Crew is a 30-year member of Willson United Methodist (North Coast District) in Cleveland. The 120 year-old structure burned on October 19. Parishioners could only look on in tears as the Cleveland Fire Department doused hot spots Sunday morning.
“Words cannot describe what I felt when I found out about the fire,” said Trustee Committee chair Collins Bennett. “It’s hard to believe.”
News of the fire quickly spread.
Bishop Julius Trimble of the Iowa Conference asked attendees of the North Central Jurisdiction Commission on Religion and Race Annual Learning Event in Independence to join hands in prayer. The former superintendent of the then Cleveland District talked about the ways Willson UMC impacted the community over the years, changing lives. In his prayer Trimble reminded all of us that, “out of the ashes life shall rise.”
Current superintendent the Rev. Dr. Peggy Streiff spent the day comforting parishioners and working with the Cleveland Department of Building and Housing to save what could be salvaged. The extensive damage from the fire made the building unsafe. By the end of the day, demolition crews had knocked down all but the entrance way of the church.
Two stained glass windows, the lectern, the guest book table, the light that hung in the entrance way, and the contents of the church safe were able to be saved.
“In our work we understand that there are things that people get attached to – a church building is one. It’s important that we respect their loss as we do what we need to do to keep people safe,” said Rufus Taylor, bureau manager of demolition for the Cleveland Department of Building and Housing.
The cause of the fire is still unknown, as are plans for where parishioners of Willson UMC will gather for worship moving forward.
“We are sad for the loss of this beautiful building but we must remember that the church is not a building. The church is the people,” said the Rev. Lorry Mabiala. “We are very glad that there were no injuries.”
View videos of demolition below: