Walker Community UMC sings and plans future after fire
By 11:30 a.m. on May 28, Walker UMC’s 102-year-old building had been torn down after fire gutted it.
May 27, 2012
After a Sunday evening fire destroyed their building, Walker Community United Methodist Church (Minneapolis) members did what they do best: sing and plan their future.
The building at 3104 16th Ave. S. caught fire on May 27, between 8 and 9 p.m. during a thunderstorm. Twelve hours later, church members and friends gathered at neighboring Living Spirit United Methodist Church, led in exuberant singing by the Walker Singers and in prayer by Bishop Sally Dyck.
"Walker Church continues to be a witness in the community, even through this," said Bishop Dyck. "Even news reports noted that though the congregation is small, it's vibrant, and it reaches into the community."
"Before us now is a new journey," Pastor Walter Lockhart IV told his gathered parishioners. "Remember that yesterday I preached about hope, and that we don't know what the questions are? This is a kairos/change moment for which few things can prepare us."
Fire Chief John Fruedel said five firefighters were injured in the three-alarm blaze, and one remained in the hospital for treatment of first- and second-degree burns.
"The hardest part of the recovery is that people are injured," Lockhart said.
The fire seemed to have started in the attic, Fruedel said. Though the cause was still under investigation, he said that "lightning could have been a very strong contributor to this fire."
Among the few items recovered were the 1909 cornerstone, a safe, and an undamaged rainbow flag that hung in the entry way.
The building houses the congregation and several community groups. Twice a month, Walker invites neighbors to a community meal. The fire would not cancel this month's Monday community meal, planned for May 28 evening.
Crosswinds United Methodist Church (Maple Grove) offered to provide the food. Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak told Lockhart that he'd make sure that traffic barricades would be erected around the church's street to allow the dinner to become a block party.
Lockhart said that several organizations, including a synagogue, offered the congregation worship space for the summer. They determined on May 29 to accept the offer of Heart of the Beast Puppet Theatre, which originally performed in the Walker Church space. The church has many options for space in the future and will carefully consider them, he said.
According to a history by Conrad deFiebre posted on the Walker Church web site, the red-brick Akron plan building was dedicated in 1910. It was named for Thomas Barlow Walker, a lumber baron and philanthropist whose contribution paid for much of the construction cost.
The congregation dates back to 1886. Serving the Powderhorn Park neighborhood, which was growing rapidly in the early 20th century, its membership peaked at 649 in 1927.
It has weathered neighborhood demographic changes, social and cultural shifts, and untimely deaths of two pastors. It is known for its social justice ministry and for opening the building to community groups. A parishioner testified during the gathering that "Walker has welcomed the highly anxious and spiritually searching."
Gifts to aid in Walker Community's recovery can be made to the Minnesota Annual Conference UMC, 122 W. Franklin Ave., Suite 400, Minneapolis, MN 55404. Please designate "Walker UMC."
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