First Methodist reopens

By Mary Ann Ellis

On December 15, 2019, Carol Weaver and his wife, Amy, were driving on Main Street in front of the First United Methodist Church when they noticed smoke rising from the roof of the church building. Mayor Tim Varnadore saw the smoke too and saw Carol looking up; quickly deciding that something wasn’t right, he called the fire department, which arrived amazingly fast and started working on the blaze. Next Tuesday will mark one full year since the dreadful fire.

Pastor Steve Meguiar said, “We had lit three advent candles that morning after a wonderful service just as we did this morning. I remember praying for all those in service to this community and before we knew it, they were putting out our fire. The advent candles had burned down to the three-weeks old greenery, set it on fire, and then burned the altar area. The chancel sustained most of the damage. We believe that God was in charge and protected most of the sanctuary. After they got the fire out, the fire department allowed us to go in two at a time. Every fireman was professional and respectful, helping in any way possible. The whole community helped and supported us in this terrible time.”

One day Meguiar saw a young lady with Serve Pro cleaning spindles, handling them reverently and with respect, as if she’d been working on a beloved child. He points out that the church family has much to be thankful for. There were colors on the ceiling that the pastor himself had never seen, but they were cleaned and repainted to their original colors. Their insurance company, Southern Mutual Church Insurance, also treated them well. Even the stained-glass windows have been fully restored.

A series of church members lead the dedication of the new sanctuary. Jimmy Allen, lay leader of the church, dedicated the chancel area, the pulpit and altar, pointing out that the message never changes, no matter the altar or pulpit. Jimmy Johnson recounted how he and others stood across the street and watched smoke boiling out the windows and roof. Afterwards, the fireman pointed to a Methodist hymnal and commented that the bible had survived. Jimmy thought to himself that the man didn’t know that was a songbook, not a bible. It did after all have a cross on the front of it. The bible would have burned too had it been hot enough, he thought. Later that night when he, the preacher, and several others were in the sanctuary, they discovered the big old pulpit bible from the 60s was untouched.

“The fireman saw the cross and had faith,” Johnson pointed out. “I had to have proof.”

Many people worked on the sanctuary, cleaning, restoring, cleaning, working to remove the stench of smoke. Servpro of Savannah did most of the cleaning and did an amazing job.

Chelsea Norris, music director said, “God took a devastating fire and turned it to something beautiful. We have a beautiful new organ, our piano is being restored and will soon be back to us, and the handbells have been restored and look brand new.”

Billy Bowers dedicated the new sound and video system.

District Superintendent Paula Lewis spoke to the congregation via the phone. She’d planned to be there in person, but she has been exposed to COVID and couldn’t come. She quoted scripture from Genesis 28: 10-22 and explained that the congregation wouldn’t have been able to be in the sanctuary anyway because of the virus. Now a vaccine is coming, and the church is reopening for worship. “Surely the presence of the Lord is in this place.”

Bill Baker carefully arranged the seating of the service today for social distancing and all attendees wore masks.

The First United Methodist Church has now been rededicated and stands shiny new and ready for God’s people to worship.