FRANKLINVILLE — Since the west-facing wall of the Franklinville United Methodist Church collapsed on July 6, members have received “an outpouring of love from people trying to help.”
The collapse left the sanctuary unstable and efforts to tear it down began July 8. It’s likely, however, that the fellowship hall will remain.
“It just cracked and fell,” said Priscilla Dunn, chair of the church board of directors. “It’s a most devastating thing. I’ve been in the church my whole life and was singing in the choir with my mother at the age of 7. There are a lot of memories. It’s a really special place.”
The sanctuary was built in 1912, the second church building to house the Franklinville Methodists. In 2019, they celebrated their 180th birthday.
“We’ve always had an open-door policy for others to use our facility,” Dunn said. The Franklinville Town Board even met at the church during the COVID-19 pandemic since Town Hall was too enclosed for public meetings.
When Franklinville School burned in the 1950s, students and teachers used the church for classes and other activities. The fellowship hall has been utilized for various reunions and other meetings.
Up until Randolph Mills closed in the 1960s and ’70s, Dunn said, it wasn’t unusual to see an attendance of 150 for Sunday services. Now they’re averaging about 20. “But we still have a choir and worship services.”
Dunn said when word got out of the collapsed wall, people began coming to the site to offer help. She said she’s received phone calls from school classmates living in other parts of the state. Others came to see how they can help.
Franklinville firefighters were able to go in and save some of the items in the sanctuary, including the pulpit, the cross, candles and the old piano. The organ, however, was not salvageable. But they also were able to remove the bell from the tower, which was damaged beyond saving.
While most of the stained-glass windows were broken, Dunn said one window that came from the original church building remains untouched. “I hope they can get it out,” she said. “It’s beautiful to see the sunlight come through the glass.”
Dunn said their new minister, the Rev. Michele Hill, was to preach her first sermon at the church on July 9. Instead, the service was held under the shelter at Franklinville’s Riverside Park.
Plans are to resume services in the fellowship hall if it’s deemed safe.
Dunn said that Hill has a “stellar” reputation and will join Franklinville with Seagrove UMC. “She’s positive. I think the Lord knew what we were going to need when she came — someone to really take the lead.
“People are the church but the building was special,” she said. “The acoustics were wonderful and (singing) groups enjoyed it. It’s a terrible loss for a lot of people. It’s almost like a lost family member, something you see on TV, not in little ol’ Franklinville.
“But we have to go on. I’m positive we’ll pick up the pieces and go on.”