South Minneapolis congregation rallies after its church burns down

Firefighters at the scene
Minneapolis firefighters watch Monday, May 28, 2012 as heavy equipment is used to tear down a wall of the Walker Community United Methodist Church in the city's Powderhorn Park neighborhood. The building was gutted by a fire the previously evening. The cause of the fire remains under investigation.
MPR Photo/Hart Van Denburg

Walker Community United Methodist Church was destroyed by fire Sunday night, and wrecking crews tore down what was left of its weakened walls on Monday.

The congregation met Monday morning to plan for the future, and to pray for the five firefighters who were injured trying to save their church. Five Methodist congregations and one Jewish synagogue have offered space to the homeless congregation going forward.

More than a hundred members of the Walker congregation and their supporters showed up at the gathering at Living Spirit United Methodist Church to comfort each other. The meeting quickly became a rally, as they joined hands to sing.

Pastor Walter Lockhart reminded the congregation that his last sermon on what turned out to be their last morning in their church together, had been about hope.

"What we have now before us, is a new journey."

Lockhart offered prayers for the firefighters who put on gear and walked into the blaze, instead of away from it, to try to save the building. Five suffered first- and second-degree burns. One is expected to remain at Hennepin County Medical Center for at least another night.

The cause of the fire is still under investigation. Minneapolis Fire Chief John Fruetel said lightning may be to blame -- there was another fire in the city Sunday night caused by a storm -- but they haven't rule out arson. Lockhart says the church is fully insured.

Neighbors of the church on the corner of 16th Avenue S. and 31st Street E. watched the walls come down on Monday morning. One woman carried a bouquet of backyard flowers to set by the sign that still proclaimed, "All Are Welcome."

As church members met Monday morning, there was no public discussion of who or what may have caused the fire on Pentecost Sunday.

The congregation, one of the earliest to welcome openly gay and lesbian members rose its feet Monday and applauded when its rainbow flag from the destroyed building was carried in.

Lockhart says the flag remains a potent symbol of what the church stands for.

"It was somewhat startling this morning to come back having seen the building burn down and the flag was still flying in the corner," he said.

The church is home to many community groups. KFAI community radio and In the Heart of the Beast Puppet and Mask Theater got their start at Walker. Lockhart says community groups will be part of the future planning for a new space.

The chuch had planned to host its regular monthly community meal Monday evening, and Lockhart joked the food he'd bought got "pre-cooked" in the church's basement. Another Methodist church has purchased replacement food, and the picnic to feed 125 neighbors in need will go on as planned.

The map below shows the location of the church, at 3104 16th Ave. S. in Minneapolis:

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