Fire destroys Claiborne County church: 'It hurt my heart'

Fire destroys Claiborne County church: 'It hurt my heart'

An early-morning fire destroys Mountain View United Methodist Church in Claiborne County on Oct. 30, 2022. Photo courtesy of WNTT Radio Station (Facebook page).

Nov. 11 update: This story has been updated to show that worship occurred one week after the fire, according to the Rev. Judy Keller.

SPEEDWELL, Tenn. – After a long, hot summer and a six-month absence, Mountain View United Methodist Church was scheduled to return to worship inside its small, brick, unairconditioned building on Nov. 6.

But when that day came, worship was held outside under an autumn afternoon sky, just one week after the church building burned to the ground.

“We met outside around the bell tower,” the Rev. Judy Keller said. “And we just stood there and looked. ... There was this gorgeous antique pump organ. I stood there and there was no sign of it. I guess the fire was so hot. It hurt my heart, in a way.”
Photo courtesy of WNTT Radio

Keller said “it is unknown” what caused the fire early on Oct. 30, as she awaits assessment from insurance adjusters. Local media, including the Claiborne Progress and WVLT, have reported that arson is suspected and the fire is under investigation.

Located in Claiborne County, Mountain View United Methodist Church co-owned the building with Powell Valley Masonic Lodge.

“We had the first floor and they had the second [floor],” Keller said. The Methodists and the Masons had shared the building since 1968 and another building prior to that, a relationship forged through people who were members of both groups, she added.

Average worship attendance peaked at 14 in 2013, but has held at 4 for the last few years, according to Holston Conference records. Membership currently stands at 2. A telephone call to one church member was not returned.

“The church is really small but they have a heart to grow,” the pastor said. “It’s pretty much a consensus that they want to rebuild.”
Rev. Judy Keller

Over the last six months, the church didn't meet in their building due to lack of air conditioning. Instead, Keller and two other persons connected to the church met every Friday night in a neighbor’s house for a home-cooked dinner and Bible study.

“With everything that’s going on with the split and the tension from that, this time together has been a gift from the Lord,” she said, referring to division and disaffiliation in The United Methodist Church.

The Rev. Angela Hardy Cross, superintendent of Holston's Mountain View District, asked for prayers for the congregation. “I’m praying for them and I hope the whole Holston Conference will pray for them,” she said. “Losing things is just hard, because some of the folks have been there all their lives.”

As worshipers stood and gazed upon the charred remains of their building on Sunday afternoon, Keller spoke about All Saints Day and preached on the marriage supper of the lamb in Revelation 19: 6-9.

“I pulled the tragedy into that,” she said. “I told them, ‘We’re going to see our families that used to be in this church. There are no church fires in heaven. You will see them again.’”

Sign up for a free weekly email subscription to The CallHolston Conference includes 842 United Methodist congregations in East Tennessee, Southwest Virginia, and North Georgia. Holston Conference's main offices are located in Alcoa, Tennessee.



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Annette Spence

Annette Spence is editor of The Call, the Holston Conference newsletter.