Rising from the ashes: a day of rebirth for Downtown Memphis

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC-TV) - Saturday was a day of rebirth for a historic downtown Memphis church.
First United Methodist Church was destroyed by fire in 2006. The church walls crumbled and the steeple collapsed, leaving the 114-year-old building in ruins and forcing the congregation to hold services at St. Jude and other sites around the city.

But for the past two years, the congregation has remained optimistic and focused on building a new sanctuary.

On Saturday afternoon, they broke ground on a massive project aimed at rebuilding the church and its Downtown community. 
Church members gathered to worship and enjoy live music, refreshments and conversation at a plaza across from the site of the church.

"We are moving forward. We are breaking ground," said Rev. Martha Wagley. "A day of new birth and renewal."

According to members, when construction is finished, First United Methodist will be completely renovated. Features will include a new sanctuary, offices to organize help for the needy, and community gathering spaces -- all on the site of the old church.

"It's a new beginning," said church member Marcus Edwards."More people will be interested in coming in here, trying to gather more people in the church."

Members hope their triumph over tragedy will inspire others.

"Because individuals, agencies and groups go through tragedy's heartache, distraction... and they wonder if they will ever come back," said Rev. Wagley. "And this is a spiritual message that says 'we are, and so can you'. It's really a symbol to the community, as well as to our local congregation."

The 2006 fire affected several other buildings in the area, and Saturday's "Day of Downtown Rebirth" also celebrated the rebuilding of Court Square Center, located just down the street from First United Methodist.

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