After steeple fire, Portsmouth church vows to restore historic building

Church leaders say it could be one year to 18 months before the repairs are complete at Monumental United Methodist Church after a steeple fire caused damage to the sanctuary.

PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) — Church leaders say it could be one year to 18 months before the repairs are complete at Monumental United Methodist Church after a steeple fire caused damage to the sanctuary.

The church, which has been on Dinwiddie Street since 1831 and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, is one of the oldest Methodist churches in Virginia.

Reverend Megan Saucier says the church is a second home for many parishioners, where they were raised, baptized and married.

“This is the symbol of all the important moments in their life,” she said. “So for them, to see the damage and see it burning, it is a very difficult experience.”

The fire on Jan. 3 started in the steeple as construction crews were working on repairs, according to investigators. Firefighters put out the flames, but it reignited a second time later that day.

“I think there were a lot of tears shed together as a group,” said Saucier.

One week later, the building is fenced off as restoration crews work inside to dry out the waterlogged sanctuary.

Fans are helping to pump heat into the church to dry out the wood floors. The carpets will eventually be pulled out, the ceilings will be replaced and the walls will be repaired and painted.

Despite the significant damage, Saucier is thankful to the firefighters who stopped the flames from spreading.

“I am very thankful, because once you have fire damage you are really thinking about those structural pieces and you are at a much different place than we are. We are so fortunate and so blessed,” she said.

Saucier has been leading Monumental for 18 months. Now, she’s helping her congregation through one of the worst tragedies in its 245-year history.

“Devastation and tragedy and bad things in life are always going to come,” she said. “This is just a reminder that God is always with us through whatever we face.”

Investigators say the company working on the steeple sparked the fire with a torch.

Saucier says the damage will most likely be covered by insurance, but the church is accepting donations from community members who wish to help.