Members of the First United Methodist Church came together Sunday evening to worship in celebration of a discovery that came from a deep loss to the church family.
On March 2, when the downtown location of the church was destroyed by a late night fire which left the 1888 stone building in ruins, no one truly expected to find a hidden treasure in the stone rubble, especially not three months later.
Earlier this week, such a revelation came to Pastor Jim Downing when he, quite by accident, stumbled upon a time capsule encased in the cornerstone of the 1888 church.
“We celebrated an extra blessing (Sunday) night as we opened the time capsule,” Downing told the Democrat after the service. “Nowhere in the church records was there ever any mention of this existing; in fact it is something of a miracle that we found it at all.”
On March 4, when the church was razed after the fire, the original cornerstone was brought to the Celebration Center when it remained intact until Saturday.
“When the cornerstone arrived here we held a memorial service to show our gratitude that no one was injured in the fire and for the blessing God has given us,” Downing said. “We each placed a stone on top of the cornerstone and those stones remained there for weeks.
“Tuesday I noticed the rocks had been removed and the middle had a different color square of stone on the top of it so I started to tap around on it and I heard a hollow sound.”
Downing and a group who were meeting at the church stepped outside to try to decide what steps they should take in finding out what was inside the stone.
A group met at 8 a.m. Saturday and drilled a small hole in the top of the cornerstone, placing a small camera through the hole to see what was inside.
“The wire hit something that sounded like tin and that’s when a parishioner brought a hammer out and we started to break through the stone,” he added. “Throughout the entire time we did the best we could not to damage the box.”
The church had planned a prayer walk for Sunday night, Downing said, adding it would have been the third one the church made as a congregation.
The group had planned to walk from the Celebration Center on 32nd Street to the corner of Fourth Street and Osage Avenue, site of the destroyed church.
“The first walk was when we built the Celebration Center in June of 1998 and the second was a year later in April of 1999 when the construction was completed,” he added. “The rains stopped us from talking the walk (Sunday) night but we will reschedule it for a later date.”
Before opening the time capsule, Downing led the congregation in prayer.
“God, we give You thanks for all who have come before us and built the church with the faith and assurance that You would stand by them,” Downing prayed. “We pray that You bless us in whatever we do in the future as You did them.”
Downing and parishioner Larry Claycomb then removed the lid and removed the first item, a letter that was believed to contain the names of the pastors who had served at the church prior to 1888.
The time capsule contained other papers, drawings and newspapers as well as a Methodist Book of Discipline from 1884 and a hymnal.
“”I was surprised that there were no actual photographs showing the history of the congregation that was established in 1861,” Downing said after the event. “Many of the items seem to be remarkably well preserved and some may be the only items that we have from the time.
“We have contacted the archivist at Central Methodist University and we will make arrangements for them to look at the materials and advise us on how we should preserve the materials, because we certainly don’t want to damage or destroy any of them,” he added. “I would have been delighted if we never would have found these things because by finding them it meant the church had been destroyed.”
When asked if the congregation had made plans on rebuilding, Downing said a building committee has been formed but it was in the opening stages.
“It is all still very fresh for us and I know everyone wants to know what we are going to do, but we simply don’t know at this time,” Downing said. “We are in prayer and when the time comes we will know we have made the right decision,” he added thoughtfully. “Whatever decision we make it will be through Him and it will glorify God.”
Hope Lecchi can be reached at 660-826-1000 ext. 1484