News from the Tennessee Valley Religion

Worshippers bow their heads in prayer on Sunday during worship in Robert Summerford's barn. Livestock are penned just outside.
Daily photo by Emily Saunders
Worshippers bow their heads in prayer on Sunday during worship in Robert Summerford's barn. Livestock are penned just outside.

Not down
on the farm

Church uses barn for worship after fire

By Melanie B. Smith 340-2468

FALKVILLE — With its century-old building burned and gone, Falkville First United Methodist Church is meeting on Sundays at what might sound like a dubious place.

Robert Summerford's barn on rural Morgan County 55, where sometimes horses and cows are bought and sold, is the temporary home of the displaced congregation.

But the barn is modern, and the lobby where worship is held is spic-and-span, air-conditioned and decorated. Only a faint scent of fresh sawdust gives away the link to livestock.

Summerford, a member, said groups often have reunions, parties and meetings in the building. He said he offered it to his congregation with the comment "The Lord was born in a stable, and we could meet in a barn."

Wood-paneled walls make it a homey space for worship — that and a "welcome" sign made of horseshoe-shaped letters.

First Methodist's bulletin noted that Sunday was the church's 25th week "in exile."

Fire in December

The building burned on Dec. 18. Flames also consumed pews, keepsakes, nursery toys and a former pastor's library. The church salvaged only some children's chairs, a cross and a few other items, members said.

But the tragedy wasn't on everyone's lips Sunday. No, worship went on in style. An altar table bore flowers, brass candlesticks and a cross. Hymnbooks were ready on seats of folding chairs.

The Rev. Kenneth Weldon, part time pastor, stood beside the rock drive to shake hands. Cindy Nesmith and her daughter, Sydney, served as greeters at the glass doors. Sydney also doubled as an acolyte.

Piano donated

The pianist had a baby grand to play, donated by Fairview Church of God. A choir sat behind the preacher and sang a special. The congregation joined in the Apostles' Creed, prayers and hymns.

"Jesus, the name that calms my fears, that bids my sorrows cease," worshippers sang.

Weldon preached to the crowd of about 45 on Jesus' condemnation of self-righteousness. He said that something will always come along "to knock you off your saddle." In praying, he asked that they would become less and Jesus more in their lives.

In the back of the building, risers, thick sawdust and portable stalls revealed the building's original use, but the only livestock visible Sunday were penned outside.

Grieving, letting go

Anne Vest of the building committee reported to the congregation Sunday that a United Methodist district committee had approved plans so far.

After the service, Vest said that she's been at First Methodist all her life. She and her husband, Vance Vest, said that other churches and the whole community have offered aid, feeling the loss, too.

Jo Wilson, whose late husband, the Rev. Jim Wilson, was pastor of the church, said that she was at home in the parsonage next door when a neighbor, Nina Winkles, called to tell her about the fire. Wilson said she'd just been outside.

"I don't know how I missed it," Wilson said of the smoke.

Gone are her husband's books, clerical robe and picture, which were in the church library, she said. The heat melted some siding on the house, which is now replaced, she said.

A member since 1959, Winkles said that she met her husband at the church. She said that her grandson and his children first spotted the fire and called 911.

"It was terrible to watch," she said. "But I feel positive about things. We are on the road to getting a building back."

Getting ready

Members said they realized anew that the church is alive and well because the members are. Donna Hill of Falkville joined on Sunday. Weldon said he was surprised that new people have come. Attendance is better now than before, he said.

A tentative design displayed on a wall at the horse barn shows a one-level church with a steeple, planned for the same spot as the previous building. The property is in downtown Falkville, east of U.S. 31 and the railroad tracks. A church conference is scheduled Wednesday at 7 p.m. to vote on the preliminary design.

Weldon said the insurance payment should be more than $1 million. The cause of the fire was electrical, he said.

At the church property on Main Street, yellow tape marked off a hole where the building was. A brick sign still stands, bearing the message "God does not give us what we can handle — He helps us handle what we are given."

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