Fire caused by lightning completely destroys Mt. Pleasant UMC in Dresden, Tenn.
Mt. Pleasant UMC in Dresden, Tenn., was completely destroyed by fire April 20. The local fire department believes lightning was the cause of the fire. Photos by Kyle Hutcherson, 16, junior firefighter, Dresden Fire Department
By Lane Gardner Camp, Director of Communications, Memphis Conference
Fire caused by multiple lightning strikes completely destroyed Mt. Pleasant UMC in Dresden, Tenn., in Weakley County, in the early morning hours of Monday, April 20.
Dr. Dale V. Mathis, the church's pastor, was out of town at the time of the blaze, but reported on Wednesday that by the time church members and local fire departments arrived at the scene, the fire was too far underway for anything to be done.
“Nothing was left,” said Mathis, other than “a few bricks.” No one was at the church at the time of the fire.
Mathis said there was evidence of multiple lightning strikes, even though the church had taken precautions against such weather damage with a steeple that incorporated a lightning rod and was grounded.
“A severe electrical storm” was passing through the area at the time of the fire to which fire departments from Dresden, Palmersville and Martin responded, said Mathis.
Dresden Fire Chief Paul Hutcherson said today, after his department's investigation, that it's "almost a certainty" lightning is what caused the fire.
The brick building, located four miles outside of Dresden at 101 Chicken Road at an intersection with Highway 54, was erected in 1944 and included a sanctuary and fellowship hall, all of which Mathis said was “well maintained and in excellent shape.”
That the members took such pride in their church facilities, among other reasons, has made the fact that nothing was saved “traumatic” for the congregation, he said.
The days since the fire have been “quite a challenge” for the congregation that has 39 members on its rolls and an average worship attendance of 18 to 20.
Many of the church’s current members grew up in the church or in the area.
"We are saddened at the loss of any structure within the area of our protection," said Fire Chief Hutcherson. "The fire loss was especially saddening to members of our department as the church had been there so long and the members appeared to be deeply, emotionally affected by its loss."
The church has insurance which Mathis believes will be “adequate to rebuild a similar facility.” The sanctuary and fellowship hall that burned sat 100 and 80 people, respectively.
Mathis said insurance adjusters and church members are currently gathering information about the loss.
According to historical information provided by Ann Phillips, historian and archivist for the Memphis Conference of the United Methodist Church that includes West Tennessee and Western Kentucky, Mt. Pleasant UMC was established in 1865 one mile from its present location.
In its earliest years, it was called “Old Terrapin Protestant Methodist Church.”
Earlier church buildings included one built around 1898 and a frame structure built around 1933 that was torn down in 1944 to make way for the brick structure that burned this week.
Mathis said the church will continue its 8:45 a.m. Sunday worship at West Union Baptist Church with which it shares a parking lot and has historically had occasional joint services.
“We are fortunate to have them,” Mathis said about the church’s neighbor he described as “very affirming.”
Any church or individual that would like to help Mt. Pleasant UMC with emergency operating or rebuilding funds may send donations to the church’s treasurer:
Mt. Pleasant UMC
c/o James Klutts
315 Hawkins Rd.
Sharon, TN 38255
Mathis, who also serves as pastor of Grove Hill UMC in Dresden, may be contacted at 731-514-5273.