As the smell of smoke lingered in the air from the massive blaze two days prior, demolition crews began tearing down what remained of the First United Methodist Church in downtown Sedalia on Friday morning.
Workers from B&P Excavating were on scene just before 9 a.m. and worked to get equipment ready while they waited for a crew from Impact Signs to remove the church’s sign in front of the building. Onlookers, members of the media and public safety officials from various entities chatted while waiting for demolition to begin, but everyone fell silent as the first stones began to fall.
B&P Project Manager Dennis Steele said he was pleased with how demolition proceeded Friday and that no neighboring structures were damaged. The crew finished demolishing the front half of the structure in the early afternoon, spending their remaining time on site creating a path to the rear of the building to make for a quick start Saturday.
“Where the structure’s at, if we continue (Friday) to get to another decent point we would probably weaken some corners,” Steele said of the decision to only tear down half of the building Friday. “We’ll knock it out (Saturday). We would have unstable walls overnight as opposed to walls with corners, which makes them much more stable to stay the night.”
Steele said he does not know what the church council’s intentions are regarding cleanup of the site once demolition is complete.
“Our goal was to get the walls down and on the ground so it was a safer work environment and not causing potential danger to other buildings, passersby and power lines,” he said.
Another goal was to preserve the church’s cornerstone and B&P workers removed it Friday afternoon from the rubble, completely intact. FUMC Pastor Jim Downing said they managed to save several items from the building in addition to the sign and cornerstone before demolition began.
“One of the items we were able to recover was the handle to the front door with part of the wood from the door itself still attached, charred by the fire but still something we can hold onto, and one of the lanterns that was at the front entryway,” Downing said. “We think those will be very meaningful and significant to just remembering what we’re about — opening doors to faith for people and being a light to the community for Christ.
“And then we have a little tree that survived all of this on the corner that was a little dogwood tree and we pulled that up this morning. We hope to grow it and as things are redeveloped down here, it’d be beautiful to plant it back in the spot that it came from.”
Downing and Associate Pastor Mike Cassidy were at the site all morning, talking with church members as they stopped by.
“Part of our staff being here, we wanted to be a comfort to the people who for the first time are coming and seeing it with their own eyes and to remind them we’re all in this together and no one needs to feel isolated and for everyone to cherish the memories that we have here,” he explained. “With these stones coming down, it doesn’t nullify those memories. Hold onto those, they’re a gift.”
FUMC’s 10:50 a.m. Sunday service will take place at the Celebration Center on 32nd Street. Downing noted they are “one church with two locations, so it’s all the same family.”
No plans have been discussed regarding future plans for the downtown FUMC site. Downing said the church council will meet next week.
“Initially we have to get over the shock of it and give ourselves time to truly grieve,” he said. “And part of grief is walking through and not getting stuck. After we’ve had that time, I think we’ll be able to make a better, God-guided decision instead of speculation.”
Sedalia Fire Department Deputy Chief Greg Harrell said some of the sidewalks in the area would be opened up Friday night and possibly Saturday morning for citizens to walk around and stop to see the church remains, but that they don’t want anyone walking in the street. City officials especially don’t want citizens walking up to the demolition site to take home stones, as the area is still considered dangerous.
“We appreciate people understanding right now this is a major safety issue,” he said. “The church will make a decision soon about what to do with the stones.”
The sidewalks will be partially closed off again Saturday as demolition begins again.
Nicole Cooke can be reached at 660-530-0138 or @NicoleRCooke.