Service held one year after fire at historic Portsmouth church

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PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) — One of the oldest Methodist churches in Virginia held a service on Thursday, one year after it was heavily damaged in a fire.

FILE — Flames are seen on the steeple of the Monumental United Methodist Church in downtown Portmsouth on Wednesday, Jan. 3, 2018. (Credit: WAVY/Stephone Cage)

Firefighters responded to Monumental United Methodist Church in downtown Portsmouth twice on Jan. 3, 2018 to battle flames which engulfed the church’s steeple. 

The blaze could be seen from WAVY’s Tower Cam 10 that afternoon. Several other buildings in the area caught on fire due to burning debris from the church.

The fire rekindled later in the evening, but was eventually extinguished.

Portsmouth fire officials determined the fire was sparked by a torch that was being used for construction work on the church.

John Epperson says he was on his way to get groceries when he got a call that a steeple in Portsmouth was on fire. He quickly learned that it was the church he knows and loves. 

“It was a heart-wrenching site to see the steeple topple over,” said Epperson. 

10 On Your Side visited the church one year after the blaze. Inside, there are metal beams as far as the eye can see.

Epperson says progress has been made. You may not be able to see it, but it’s happening.

“A project like this takes time, we have time, it takes money and the insurance company has money and it takes a lot of patience,” he said.

Epperson says the work includes removal of the pews, removal of the charred steeple, structural repairs to the roof, demolition of the ceiling, among other things.

According to Epperson, 14 stain glass windows were removed to be restored and replaced. Two of the historic glass windows were blown out during the fire. 

“It’s a painful thing to come in here and look at this,” said Epperson. “We are all just so very anxious to get back into our sanctuary.”

The church is hoping a new steeple goes up in March, with the sanctuary expected to be finished by November. 

“It’s survived since 1870, it’ll be here for another 100 years or better. So I know we can do it.”

FILE — Firefighters are seen responding to the Monumental United Methodist Church in downtown Portmsouth in January 2018 after a fire burned the church's steeple. (Credit: WAVY/ChrisHorne)

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