Fire claims church building in Hickory Plains07/06/2012
Fire claims church building in Hickory PlainsBy Amy Forbus
Members of Hickory Plains UMC, a rural community church north of Carlisle, on the afternoon of May 30 watched their church building burn to the ground.
Likely sparked by electrical wiring or a lightning strike from a passing storm, the fire spread swiftly. Efforts of multiple volunteer fire departments brought the blaze under control, but the structure is a total loss.
The congregation, which has an average worship attendance of about 30, met that evening for prayer in a park pavilion next door to the church property, and continued to use the pavilion for Sunday morning worship until summer temperatures interfered. They received offers of meeting space from multiple churches in the area, and currently worship at Crossroads Baptist Church.
“Right now we’re working through our grief, and when we finish grieving over the sentimental part of the church, we will start anew,” said Pastor Debbye Harrison on the day after the fire.
“We lost the building, but we didn’t lose the church,” she added. “We have a loving and giving congregation, and we’ve been blessed with so many people calling and supporting us from around the state.”
Looking back, moving forward
Betty Covington, an active member of the church for the past four decades, stood in the park the afternoon of the fire and reminisced about the memories the building held.
“We raised all four of our children in there,” she said. She spoke of sentimental items, such as a scrapbook that chronicled the last half-century of the congregation’s history, and of a special quilt made by people in the community. “It had all of our parents’ names on it. It was a friendship quilt.
“There were a lot of memorials in there from losing our members. It’s just very emotional for me,” she said, holding back tears.
Ronnie Ashmore, 42, has attended Hickory Plains UMC his entire life. As he watched the firefighters work, he voiced the determination shared by many members who know the congregation’s vital presence in the small community: “We just rebuild,” he said. “You just have to start over.”
A June 2 status update on the congregation’s Facebook page gave thanks for the offers of assistance, announced the 9 a.m. worship time and reminded readers that the most important part of the church is still standing: “Our faith still endures and will continue to grow, this isn’t a step backwards for our church, but a step forward in showing how strong our faith is.”
Harrison said that because the building that burned was surrounded on two sides by graves and the Hickory Plains Cemetery may need room to expand, the church is researching potential new locations.
“There is a renewed spirit in our congregation,” she said nearly a month after the fire. “It’s as though a fire has been lit in us now that wasn’t there before. I never would have believed that would have been the result when I was watching it burn.”
While insurance will cover a substantial amount of the rebuilding cost, the congregation also will hold a fundraising dinner Saturday, July 14, at Hickory Plains Park on Highway 13 North, at 5:30 p.m. Attendees will enjoy catfish and chicken from a catering business owned by Harrison’s family, and music by Arkansas Edition, a Searcy-based bluegrass gospel band. For details, visit facebook.com/HickoryPlainsUMC.