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Couple remembers Odessa church destroyed by fire

“It’s just devastating,” says Peggy Pemberton of the fire that destroyed her rural Odessa church in the early hours of Thursday morning. “I was sick to my stomach.”

Police are investigating the total destruction of the 135-year-old Woods Chapel United Methodist Church south of Odessa, Mo. The blaze caused the collapse of the historic structure into the basement leaving only rubble and burning embers.

The Johnson County, Missouri, fire department reported they were alerted around 1:30 a.m. by the church’s next door neighbor.

When firefighters arrived the majority of the church had already collapsed on itself with just the remains of one wall partially standing. It wasn’t long before that wall fell as well. Firefighters were left with only the task of dousing rubble that lay burning. The only recognizable structure of the building left are the concrete steps and wrought iron railing that had assisted countless older church-goers up the steps and into the local icon over the decades.

As of Friday the ATF, the Missouri State Fire Marshal’s Office and Johnson County Sheriff’s Office are all involved in the investigation. They haven’t ruled out lightning, but early indications are the storms didn’t hit that area until after the fire started. They have also not ruled out arson.

While most of the community would not know of the fire until the next morning, for families who attended the historic church word spread as quickly as the flames lit up the night.

Pemberton and her husband Don live just down the highway. For them the destruction of the church was like knife to the heart.

“I probably was about this long when I first went in the door,” Don Pemberton  told KTV5 News. To illustrate moved his hands apart to about 20 inches in distance. That was how big he was when he was born and first entered the church with his parents. “I’ve been there ever since.” That was 81 years ago.


Peggy and Don Pemberton are life-long members of the church. Photo: Twitter.

In the interview the couple emphasized they believe that what makes a church is not the actual structure – bricks, carpeting, an altar and more. It’s the community of family and friends who worship the creator of the universe there.

Don turns to his wife and asks if she questions it.

“You question why,” she replied, almost thinking to herself then, turning to her husband, finishes her thought, “Well, it crosses your mind, but I don’t ever want to question God.”

The tiny congregation came together after the fire to plan a new course and face an uncertain future for the church which was dedicated in 1884.

It’s too soon to know if we’ll rebuild, they concluded.

–Dwight Widaman | Metro Voice News