UM Connection Rallies Around Franklinville UMC After Devastating Wall Collapse
July 10, 2023
By: Ken Garfield
Photo credits: Rev. Beth Crissman and Rev. Chris Smith
The good people of Franklinville United Methodist Church have long shared God’s love with others. Now the congregation 28 miles south of Greensboro is finding out what it feels like to be wrapped in the arms of those who do God's work.
When a wall of the historic sanctuary fell around 8:30 p.m. Thursday (July 6), the community rose up. Church members and at least eight United Methodist pastors from nearby congregations shared their presence and prayers. Neighbors shared food, water and hugs, including the very Good Samaritan who ordered a Domino’s supreme pizza for folks at the scene. Emergency workers who rushed to the church on Thursday and those who demolished the sanctuary on Saturday did so with deep respect. Even journalists chipped in. One Greensboro TV newscaster reminded folks working outside the church to stay hydrated.
“From a spiritual standpoint, it was the connection of the body of Christ,” said Rev. Beth Crissman, Uwharrie District Superintendent.
“It’s the beauty of being part of a connectional church,” said Rev. Michele Hill, who led the congregation in singing “Amazing Grace” at Sunday worship, which was held under the shelter in the town park.
Talk about rising to the challenge, this was Crissman’s first week in her new position. It was also Hill’s first week as pastor of Franklinville United Methodist Church.
The red-brick sanctuary was built in the 1800s. The cause of the wall’s collapse is under investigation. The best news of all: No one was injured. They hope to be able to return to other buildings on campus when they are deemed safe. Neighboring churches and the fire department have offered use of their facilities for Sunday worship.
Another example of the United Methodist connection comes from The United Methodist Foundation of Western North Carolina, who immediately took action to provide a $2500 Hope Grant to Franklinville UMC. These funds can be used by the congregation for immediate needs they may have during this interim period between demolition and rebuilding.
In and around the church, talk has dwelled on memories and moments. Lifetime member Sue Saunders, 70, was baptized and married to her husband, Thomas, in the sanctuary. Their two children were baptized there. She was assigned to put the new pastor’s name on the marquee in front of the church but never got the chance.
As soon as Saunders heard the news about the wall coming down and roof collapsing, she kept vigil outside the sanctuary. But as the weekend wore on, her heartbreak turned to hope. Perhaps the church can build a different kind of structure, one that can be used seven days a week and not just Sunday. “I feel excited because I think we’re going to do some really exciting things,” Saunders said.
Her optimism was fueled by what she experienced after the collapse.
“A small town at its best,” Saunders called it.
People texted, called and emailed, asking what they could do to help.
Election Day workers stopped by. The church is used as a polling place.
The demolition was performed tenderly. Crews successfully saved parts of the stained glass windows, the cross on top of the steeple, an old church Bible and the baptismal font. Some grabbed a brick to remember the sanctuary by.
Among the clergy who anchored himself in Franklinville was Rev. Chris Smith of Jordan Memorial United Methodist and La Luz De Cristo in Ramseur. Smith was there Saturday for the prayer service marking the sanctuary’s demolition. The gathering sang “(Lord, Prepare Me To Be A) Sanctuary.” One especially prophetic verse reminds us that the church is more than bricks and mortar: “With Thanksgiving I’ll be a living sanctuary for you.”
Smith was also there Sunday for the 9:30 a.m. service, along with some of his parishioners. Attendance swelled as members of the church and community gathered for this sacred hour of worship. Holy Communion was celebrated, the invitation offered to TV reporters covering the service.
What does a pastor preach for the first time at her new church, much less one that just lost a piece of itself? Hill didn’t need to look far for inspiration. It’s there in the 12th chapter of Matthew, words to live by when a sanctuary comes tumbling down.
“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.”
The United Methodist Foundation of Western NC has set up the Franklinville UMC Relief Fund where you and/or your congregation can donate to help rebuild their sanctuary. You may give online at THIS LINK or send a check to:
United Methodist Foundation of Western North Carolina, Inc.
13816 Professional Center Drive
Huntersville, NC 28078
Memo: Franklinville UMC Relief Fund
Ken Garfield is a freelance writer/editor focusing on faith and charitable causes. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.