A fire burned through Oconee Street United Methodist Church in just minutes late Monday night, destroying the 110-year-old church, except for the brick exterior walls. No one was hurt.
Firefighters said they got a call about the fire at about 10:18 p.m. They responded within four minutes, but by the time they arrived, flames had already shot through the roof.
It’s too early to say what caused the fire, although investigators had no reason to suspect arson. It’s also unclear how badly the Our Daily Bread soup kitchen in the basement was damaged.
UPDATE: Action Ministries, which runs Our Daily Bread, is distributing meals at temporary locations and asking the community for donations. This was posted to its Facebook page this morning:
The fire at Oconee Street UMC occured last night and our ACC Fire Department worked around the clock to suppress it. Thank God for them and this community of Athens, which is full of love and quick responsiveness! Thank you for your support! We have no kitchen, only the program office, so we are serving breakfast (ready to eat items only) on the front lawn of the office (the white house on the corner of Poplar, up the hill from Mama’s Boy). Chik-fil A has graciously donated breakfast this morning, and we could use breakfast donations for Wednesday and Friday. Athens First Baptist has graciously agreed to host our noon meals this week. Donations of ready to eat items: please bring to 717 Oconee Street, the white house on the corner. Financial support can be mailed to or dropped off at: 717 Oconee Street; Athens, GA 30605. THANK YOU!
And Flagpole received this note to the First Baptist congregation from Pastor Paul Baxley:
Just after 7:00 AM today, we learned that there was a devastating fire at Oconee Street United Methodist Church last night. The fire has consumed the building. So first and foremost, I write to ask you to pray for that congregation. I cannot imagine what they are feeling and facing this morning.
As many of you know, that church has also hosted Our Daily Bread for many years. At 7:15 this morning, I received a phone call from Erin Barger, Executive Director of Action Ministries, asking if we could provide a temporary home for Our Daily Bread. In her words, “we have no place to serve lunch.”
Those of you who were present for Sunday’s vision meeting know that we listed our congregation’s many assets and explored new ways of utilizing those assets. One of the most frequently mentioned resources was our kitchen. Now a potential faithful use has emerged for that kitchen and dining space on a temporary basis.
Because of the urgency of the situation, I have invited Our Daily Bread to use our facilities this week. Milledge Avenue Baptist Church was already scheduled to serve lunch today and they have stepped forward to offer their bus to transport guests to and from Oconee Street this week. That will be particularly critical today, as many people will arrive at Oconee Street not knowing what has happened. So that at least provides Our Daily Bread provision for their most immediate need.
Obviously Our Daily Bread will need space well beyond this week. Our church leadership is exploring what it would mean to meet that need as well. My prayer would be that the day would come when Our Daily Bread can “return home” to the church that has hosted it for so long. At the same time, so many in our church have cooked and served meals at Our Daily Bread, and you are well aware of how critical this ministry is for the community. It is the primary source of nourishment for many, and for some its presence is what keeps individuals and families from becoming homeless. So I ask for your prayers as we discern next steps in relation this emergency.
Some of you will want to know if we need volunteers this week. Once that becomes clear, we will be back in touch. Obviously, churches were already scheduled to serve. But we may need some additional folks to help with hospitality. If we do, we will certainly let you know.
Say a prayer this morning for the congregation and leadership of Oconee Street United Methodist Church, for Action Ministries/Our Daily Bread, and for the guests of that ministry who are all facing an unwanted and unexpected emergency. And pray that we will be faithful in offering the peace and presence of Christ in the midst of this difficult time.
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