Photo by Sue Watson
Church members, emergency personnel and others survey the damage to the First United Methodist Church building last week.
Photo by Penny Lomenick
Members of First United Methodist Church and guests meet for worship service Sunday morning on the Rust College campus.
This photo from inside the church building shows bricks that fell and damaged one of the pews.
Part of church wall collapses
The collapse of a portion of the east wall of First United Methodist Church in Holly Springs late Tuesday afternoon, Aug. 22, sent shock waves throughout the community.
Moments after the wall collapsed many of the faithful were street side aghast at the failure of the wall. The building was constructed in 1849.
The immediate concern of the ladies was to get the exposed section covered before rains came.
Pastor Jeff Tollison said luckily Mike Lemons and Jonathan Burch and other Good Samaritans came before dark and put up a blue tarp to keep water out of the building.
“It wasn’t 10 minutes after they got the tarp up that the rain came in,” he said. “It was just in the nick of time.”
Many of the ladies were in tears while the men were planning a strategic response and making phone calls.
Starlit Tomlinson and her daughter Luci were at the sidewalk with little Luci teary. They attend Dr. John Jones’ Bible study on Wednesday nights but go to the United Methodist Church in Waterford where Tollison also preaches.
Liz Wicker was cleaning a house across the street and heard about it. She came over to look, as did the ladies at the Holly Springs Tourism office.
Fire chief Kenny Holbrook studied the situation and taped off the building on both sides. He said if the east wall fell any more it could bring down the west wall as well.
Bystanders were worried that any activity in the area of the collapse would cause more of the wall to fail.
“There already are cracks on the opposite side of the building,” Holbrook said. “If any more of this goes and breaks that top piece, the other side will fall. Before I would do anything, I would have a structural engineer look at it.”
Tollison, who has been pastor for just a couple of months, was taking the situation in stride.
“Yeah, this was unexpected, but we (pastors) are expected to expect the unexpected,” he said.
Rust College has stepped up and offered its chapel as a temporary place to worship. As a matter of fact, several pastors called and immediately offered their places for worship, as did Marshall Academy.
Elam Chapel on the Rust campus holds about 250, and First United Methodist started meeting there this past Sunday morning.
Tollison arrived in Holly Springs the end of June and the first Sunday service he led was the first Sunday in July.
The church is also providing his family temporary living quarters while the parsonage is being refurbished.
He said the sanctuary from floor to ceiling is 22 feet high, and the old walls are four bricks across. The original interior brick would have been hand-made in 1849 when the church was built.
“The exterior brick is still old,” he said. “All that weight over time could be a factor. I would say the church building is suffering from old age.”
Tollison said the congregants have been ribbing him, saying his last sermon was too much fire and brimstone.
The power was cut off at the church soon after the collapse to make the structure safe in case any more damage takes place when the construction crew gets to work. The ceiling and walls will be braced before anything else is done, he said.
Some bricks fell inside the sanctuary during the collapse, breaking one of the pews.
“What everybody is concerned about, and rightly so, are those two beautiful stained glass windows near the opening,” Tollison said. “Once the building is safe to work in, we will get a specialist to come take out those windows to preserve them.”
The crisis is drawing the church and the community together, he said.
John Jones held adult Bible Study in his office Wednesday night of last week after the collapse the day before. And an emergency church council meeting was called to develop a plan. The insurance company will send a claims adjuster and then the church will take it from there.
“Once we get this fixed, we have to look at the long-term solution for the rest of the structure,” Tollison said. “As a church, we appreciate the whole community helping us out.”
Tollison is beginning his ninth year in the ministry. His last church was Mendenhall United Methodist Church.
He graduated from Memphis Theological Seminary in 2012 and was ordained as elder by the conference in 2016.
His wife Lacy and three daughters - Lizzie (16), Anna Griffin (13) and Ruthie (7) - have been made welcome by the community and Marshall Academy as well, he said.
“It is just nice how everybody has been good to us, helping us to get acclimated to the community before we arrived,” he said. “The fact that they are working on our parsonage says a lot about how they want us to be happy.
“I’m expecting something good to come out of this.”