Easter at the Mathewson always is a special event for the congregation of First United Methodist Church. This year, however, the community-wide celebration will hold deeper meaning for the church family as it arises from the loss of its historic downtown site, which was destroyed by fire March 2.
Pastor Jim Downing said the theme for this year’s service, “Rising Up,” was selected well before the March 2 blaze. That message appears to link the traditional Easter story with his congregation.
“(‘Rising Up’) has to do with the resurrection of Christ but I think it takes on special meaning after the events of a couple of weeks ago with the fire,” Downing said. “We anticipate that there is going to be a resurrection of ministry at Fourth and Osage – that is our hope.”
The service, set for 10 a.m. March 27, at the Mathewson Exhibition Center at the Missouri State Fairgrounds, will include plenty of music to help deliver the “good news” of the resurrection of Jesus. In addition, the church will honor the Sedalia Police Department, Sedalia Fire Department and Pettis County Sheriff’s Office “to thank them for the amazing work they did on behalf of the church and the city” related to the fire, said Downing, who was flying back from a trip to Israel when the blaze broke out. He did not learn that anything was amiss until he landed in New York.
“I am so thankful there was no loss of life and no injuries,” he said. “Still, it was tragic to lose such a facility and something so vital to our ministry.”
A key element of Downing’s Easter message will be some of what he learned and experienced in Israel. It will be his first opportunity to publicly share anything from that trip.
“It just fits with the entire theme,” he said. “We’re hoping for a really beautiful day and a big turnout.”
Easter isn’t the only date circled on the church calendar. April 14 will hold special meaning as well, as that is the day First United Methodist Church members will open conversations about what will be done at the Fourth and Osage site. The date was not an arbitrary choice.
“It just happens that April 14, 1888, was when the cornerstone was set at Fourth and Osage,” Downing said. “We selected that date when we saw how close that was. We thought, ‘Wouldn’t that be a great date to start our conversation about the next chapter at Fourth and Osage?’”
Referring to the downtown site and the Celebration Center complex on 32nd Street, he added, “We aren’t giving up on multi-site ministry.”
At the April 14 session, church members “can come and share their ideas, their hopes and dreams” for the downtown location, Downing said. They also might start conversations on the best uses for some of the items salvaged from the fire, including the cornerstone, a door knob from the front door (including some charred wood), lanterns from the entrance area and a dogwood tree.
“When we went to multi-site ministry we planted a dogwood at each location,” Downing said. “That dogwood was standing (at Fourth and Osage) the day after the fire. … The dogwood is another symbol of resurrection and hope in this season.”
The tree is potted at the Celebration Center campus, where it will be planted so it can continue to grow until it is replanted at Fourth and Osage when the church is ready to move forward at that site.
This is the 10th year for Easter at the Mathewson, so church leaders and members already had hopes to make this year’s service a special celebration. They are more than ready for some good news.
“We are Easter people, we are resurrection people,” Downing said. “That’s the story of faith and life – that you never give up. God always gets the last word, and that word is always good. It doesn’t end in tragedy, it ends in triumph.”
Bob Satnan is the communications director for Sedalia School District 200.