Wesley United Methodist Church Celebrates Rebuilt Building, Renewed Faith

Wesley United Methodist Church has a new building two years after a devastating fire, again giving parishioners a permanent home and proving the strength of the church beyond simple brick and mortar.

“We learned much more that the church is with the people,” said Pastor Lourdes Magalhaes, “and that was wonderful how the group got together to work to rebuild the building, but the building is just a place that hosts us, because the church is with the people.” 

The 135-year-old Marshfield church was destroyed in a fire on Sept. 2, 2018, rendering three-story building beyond repair. Bishop Hee-Soo Jung remembers driving to the scene from Sun Prairie, much of the time in a torrential downpour. 

“Then when I got there, there was no rain at all, but a terrible burning building,” said Bishop Jung. “It was already blocked off by the fire department, so I waited by the side.” 

A couple weeks later, meeting parishioners at the Seventh-Day Adventist Church, Bishop Jung was expecting an anxious group, but found something else: “It was amazing that through their own faith and their own formation, they had much planned of how they would rebuild the church.” 

Pastor Magalhaes, originally from the Sao Paolo area of Brazil, ministered there and in Rio de Janeiro before coming to the U.S. in 2007 to be a missionary pastor with The United Methodist Church Global Ministries for Hispanic Latino Ministry in New Jersey for the next nine years. 

She had only been serving in Marshfield for about a year, getting to know members of the parish and finally gearing up for new initiatives with the church, when she received the call that the church was on fire. 

“But the way God diverted it was part of his plan,” said Pastor Magalhaes. “The spiritual growth of my congregation was really a great achievement and I’m glad God helped us to grow through and to work out the way it hit us and the way that only God could help us day by day.” 

The church quickly set the goal of rebuilding within the next two years at the same location. Although they would construct the church on the same plot, it would not be the same. Part of this decision came from the thoroughness of the fire damage, with authorities ordering the last remaining brick walls knocked down, but part was in service of the community. 

Changes included making the open areas of the church all on one floor and, after taking tours and talking to ministers of other churches, replacing pews with chairs. 

When someone enters the new church, there is a fellowship hall, that is followed by the sanctuary, with glass walls separating the rooms. Those walls can be opened to create one large sanctuary seating a total 286 people. 

“When people come in they feel God’s presence—they feel welcome,” said Pastor Magalhaes. 

The church is hosting a dedication ceremony on September 19, but due to COVID-19-related precautions, fewer people will be able to fit into the sanctuary, with space for about 70 in the inner sanctuary with social distancing. 

“It is a little bit awkward because not everyone is available to come,” said Pastor Magalhaes, “we are getting pretty comfortable using the building already.” 

Among the new additions to the church have been technological upgrades with many of the building’s utilities fully automated. The construction was also strangely fortuitous as development of the church’s audio-visual system was a point of detailed discussion, which became critical with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and regular use.

“The camera was a decision that we postponed,” said Pastor Magalhaes, “but when the pandemic hit, we realized that we really needed the camera and they were ordered and installed in about two weeks.” 

The church has been in use since its first service on July 5 and first celebration of life ceremony on August 11, but parishioners will have a formal celebration with a dedication ceremony on September 19. 

“I think this celebration is a witness of their faith,” said Bishop Jung. “The church is in the same location, but I know that their faith is much different and they are open to future growth and that is my blessing for them.”