Search for answers begins after historic church burns
An investigator from the State Fire Marshal’s Office was searching through the rubble Friday after a 108-year-old Falls County church burned to the ground overnight.
Flames had engulfed and were shooting from the roof of the Mooreville United Methodist Church on FM 2643 in Chilton when the first crews arrived, Chilton Volunteer Fire Department Chief Rodney Hall said Friday.
“It’s a sad loss,” he said.
Firefighters from a half dozen area departments responded after the fire was reported shortly after 10 p.m. Thursday.
On Friday, area residents drove by the fire scene, some stopping to take pictures, others in tears.
“People who have never even lived here know this place and are grieving,” said longtime church member Ann Phelps, 81.
Phelps, who’s considered the church historian, was baptized here in 1938.
Eight generations of her family attended Mooreville United Methodist Church, she said.
“Everybody knew when they came over the road and looked at the church on the hill that they were home,” she said.
“They knew they were in Mooreville.”
“This is a devastating loss,” she said.
“We can rebuild but we can never replace the original structure.”
Construction of the church building started in 1911, but the congregation was established in 1867 with 18 charter members as the Mooreville Methodist Episcopal Church, South.
When the building was completed in 1912, it had no pews, Phelps recalled, but during the first funeral service held in the church, enough money was raised to buy them.
Today the church has about 200 members, led by Pastor Dennis Rejcek, who could only watch as flames consumed the building.
"We're watching the bell tower burn right now," Rejcek told KWTX late Thursday night.
The last church meeting of the night was in the fellowship hall at around 8:30 p.m. Thursday, he said.
No one was around when the fire broke out, he said.
While the congregation is devastated, he says members are glad no one was hurt.
"This is a strong community church, and people are the church, and we will rebuild," the pastor told KWTX.
The congregation's first two structures were built in the 1800s, the first in 1874, and the second in 1882, according to the church’s website.
Agencies that responded included the Chilton VFD, Golinda VFD, Lott VFD, Rosebud VFD, Marlin VFD, Falls County Emergency Management, the Falls County Sheriff's Office, and a tanker truck from Lorena VFD was requested.