On January 3, 2018, Monumental United Methodist Church was having some weather-proofing done on the steeple. A propane torch used in the weather-proofing ignited the steeple. The fire destroyed the steeple, and water ruined the sanctuary. After two years of meeting in the Fellowship Hall and Centenary UMC, the church is re-built and fully back in operation. A Service of Celebration was held on December 1, 2019, to celebrate the re-opening of the Sanctuary and to invite the community back into this wonderful, historical church. This church was established in 1772 and moved to its current location in 1831 where its name was the Dinwiddie Street Church, which burned in 1864 during the Civil War. The current sanctuary was completed in 1876, and it was the 1876 steeple that was destroyed in 2018. The church was renamed Monumental UMC in 1875 as a monument to Robert Williams, the founding missionary preacher. The 1831 pulpit Bible is the only item to survive the 1864 fire. It was on display in the sanctuary in 2018, and it also survived that fire.
The Celebration started at 11:00 a.m. on December 1, 2019. Rev. Franklin Gillis, who was pastor at Monumental in the 1980’s, was the speaker for the event. What a joy to be in this wonderful old sanctuary that was now bright, shiny and new in a church that was founded before our nation – 1772. Rev. Gillis was a much loved pastor and it was very fitting to have him back on such a momentous occasion.
At 3:00 p.m., the Celebration began in a full and over-flowing sanctuary. An ensemble of three trumpets, trombone, euphonium, oboe and the magnificent restored Pipe Organ provided the music. A thirty-five-member choir sang, and the congregation listened in awe of the fantastic music. Darlene Amon recognized John Epperson, a church member, who volunteered to be the Project Manager and was on-site every day for two years. District Superintendent, Rev. Wayne Snead, led us in a Prayer of Consecration.
Jonathan Heeley wrote a special anthem about the struggles the church had gone through because of the fire, entitled: “Wait For The Lord.” Jonathan lives in California but was born in Virginia. He came all the way from California to conduct the choir. There were more than 25 first responders present from the fire department who worked so hard to save the building. A slide presentation was presented on how the building was affected and pictures of reconstruction. Two stained glass windows were destroyed and had to be re-built. The organ was water-logged and had to be rebuilt. Water damage in the sanctuary was horrendous and all the pews had to be refinished and recovered. The steeple was totally destroyed and had to be re-designed and rebuilt.
The choir – all thirty plus voices – sang “Let There Be Music” and the hand bell choir played before the message by Rev. Dr. H. Celeste Heath. The message was from Jeremiah 31:31-33 and Acts 2:14-17 and was titled “Dream On.” John Wesley had a dream and the church of England denied him to preach in their churches. Wesley’s dream came to America. Asbury brought this dream. Asbury has a stone monument on the inside of this church (Monumental) because he preached here. Asbury and Wesley were not the church. The dream has continued since the time of Wesley and Asbury. The people are the church. The church is the people. The dream has continued at Monumental. During renovation, the church served meals to the homeless. They have served at Wesley Community Center. They have worshipped in the Fellowship Hall and served in the name of Jesus to the community. Rev. Heath told us to dream on until the dream comes true. God still has a dream for the United Methodist Church. This congregation has been active for 247 years. The scripture says, “I will be their God and they will be my people.” Rev. Heath said, “The new steeple is a beacon for the community and the world.”
The closing hymn was “Joyful, Joyful We Adore Thee” and the Postlude was “A Festive Trumpet Time.” Everyone was invited to the Fellowship Hall for refreshments.
This is the second story I’ve written about Monumental United Methodist Church. Monumental has been restored and is now ready for the future. Many hands have worked to bring Monumental back and make sure that it is ready for the future. At the Virginia United Methodist Development Company, we have been privileged to work with Monumental UMC and help them come back from the ashes.
Author: Tommy Herndon