By Tessa Rosa, Chippewa Valley Post reporting intern
September 22, 2016. Pastor David Huber’s phone rang at 1:45 a.m.
He didn’t react. It was the fire department calling, and so the phone rang again.
This time Huber picked it up to hear a voice on the other end telling him that Plymouth Congregational United Church of Christ – his church – was on fire.
With sleep still clouding his mind, the message did not register immediately. The second time the fire marshal told him, the cobwebs fell away.
“WHAT!?” Huber said and raced out of bed and down to 2010 W Moholt Dr.
Access “ …was blocked off by a ton of fire trucks on the street and in the lot,” Huber recalled in a recent interview, “I saw the flames above the trees and my heart stopped.”
The hoses went on fighting until they finally extinguished the flames around 6 a.m. The fire destroyed most of the building, leaving mostly ash and warm embers. As the smoke cleared, Huber’s heart sank. Despite saving some items from the sanctuary, most of what was inside the church was lost.
“[We] lost a baby grand [piano] that was donated. That was really sad to lose, but it just soaked up too much water,” Huber said. “We managed to save a couple (of) handwritten minutes (from the 1950s), two candle holders and a brass cross….”
After the fire, with no building to hold the congregation, Huber looked elsewhere for a place to meet and worship. Grace Lutheran Church, with several floors and many rooms, was the answer. The church offices have been moved there, and the congregation worships in the chapel at Grace.
“Grace Lutheran has been a hostess for different groups…Grace, Plymouth and Quakers in one building….” Huber said, The “community has been really supportive, which is fantastic.”
Now, nearly 11 months later, all remains of the building are gone and grass and weeds have begun to take over where the building once stood. Without the sad looking ruins left, the feeling of peace on the church grounds is back.
With that feeling surrounding the church again, planning for the future has begun more steadily. The empty lot holds the promise of a new building for the church that dates back to 1885,
There are big hopes for the new building, and the taste of excitement and hope is in the air. Feelings of despair and lost hope have faded, dragged away with the remainders of scorched floor boards and burned walls.
Building plans and ideas have begun spinning and being set into action.
“I’ve chosen to see this as a chance for improvement, and to be the start of something new,” Huber said. “The goal] is break ground this fall and have a new building standing by May or June.”
Huber said he believes the burning of the church has not been all bad, as most of the members and the community have chosen to see it as a chance for improvement. A chance for new beginnings. An opportunity to change and revamp not only the church, but also what the building means to the community.
“We want the community to come in and use the building. Quilters that have been using the church for 60-70 years are finally getting their own room…there will be a gardening club, a place for the Eau Claire Dementia Choir….” Huber said.
(The Dementia Choir, formed in mid-2016 and known as the Stand in the Light Choir, gives people diagnosed with dementia and their caregivers a chance to sing. Its original meeting place was at Plymouth Congregational Church.)
With much help and continuous support from the community and church goers, the fire last fall has turned to something more.
The building may have burned down, but the ministry stands strong.
Note: the home page photo was provided by Pastor David Huber.