After fire claimed Syracuse church, congregation worships at coffeehouse - Omaha.com
Published Monday, January 13, 2014 at 12:30 am / Updated at 10:27 am
Holy grounds
After fire claimed Syracuse church, congregation worships at coffeehouse
TO HELP OUT
Donations to United Methodist Church of Syracuse are being accepted at FirstBank of Nebraska locations in Wahoo, Sterling, Burchard and Syracuse.

Donations also may be mailed to United Methodist Church, P.O. Box 250, Syracuse, NE 68446

SYRACUSE, Neb. — There have been a lot of tears in the week since the 102-year-old United Methodist Church in Syracuse burned. But Sunday — at the first service since that tragedy — there were hugs, smiles and lots of laughter.

“All I do is cry, it seems like,” said Frances Wirth, who has been a member of the congregation for nearly 60 years. “Today has been wonderful. I haven't seen this many people in church in a long, long time. It was just great.”

More than 100 people, including several visitors from other churches, attended the hourlong service held at A.J.'s Coffee House in downtown Syracuse.

Church trustee Mike Antes said he was especially heartened to see Mayor Tomas Ortiz and other city officials.

“It's actually very overwhelming to see the support we have gotten from the community,” Antes said. “It's probably done more for us than anything could have.”

Former trustee Terry Zimmers ran out of weekly bulletins while greeting people at the door.

She also handed out a “Church Fire Survival Kit” that held: a penny, “to help make 'cents' of things”; a cotton ball, “to cushion the rough times”; a paper clip, “to help hold things together”; and a lollipop, because “together we can lick anything.”

The Nebraska Fire Marshal's Office has not determined a cause of the fire but has ruled out foul play. The congregation will meet at the United Methodist Church of Unadilla each of the next three weeks before moving into a vacant storefront in Syracuse until a new church is built.

“We might just hang a neon sign in the window that says 'Jesus Saves,' ” the Rev. Gary Ganger joked while addressing his flock. “We're orphans, but we have each other.”

Ganger, who serves as pastor of the churches in Unadilla and Syracuse, took the helm just six months ago. The McCook, Neb., native said encouragement has poured in from churches all across Kansas and Nebraska.

Last Monday, the morning after the fire, Ganger said he was surprised by two friends who showed up to do whatever they could to help. The men wound up guarding the front and back doors of the parsonage to keep out the curious while Ganger dealt with critical matters.

“I didn't know these two men were coming, but I was glad they did,” Ganger said. “It's in times of stress like these that we have to help each other.”

At one point in Sunday's service — when members thank God for their blessings — one person offered praise that no one was injured in the fire, which was discovered by Boy Scout leaders arriving for an evening meeting. Another member noted that a wooden carving of the Lord's Prayer had been saved from the ashes.

Ganger said the carving, titled “Our Father's Prayer,” is the work of the late Arthur Whitehead, a member who presented it to United Methodist Church in 1997. A cross carved by Whitehead also was rescued.

“These are precious artifacts that we will carry to our storefront church and on to whatever comes next,” Ganger said. “We are in a difficult situation that we just have to turn around and get rolling down the road. We are already seeing signs of that happening.”

Antes said the first step is to demolish the portions of the brick walls that still are standing. That could begin as soon as today, he said. The educational wing of the church, built in 1962, had smoke and water damage but is otherwise intact, he said.

Church members are eager to rebuild, but whether the church will rise on the same ground hasn't been determined.

“Part of my job is going to be holding back the trustees and the other members from moving ahead too quickly,” Ganger said. “We want something that will last not just for a few years but for 50 years and more.”

Becky Neeman, a 40-year member, said Ganger and the trustees have demonstrated great leadership since the fire. Rebuilding will happen in time, she said, but the congregation members will stick together wherever they worship.

“We are the church,” she said. “And we will always be the church.”

Contact the writer: Kevin Cole

kevin.cole@owh.com    |   402-444-1272    |  

Kevin Cole covers workings of police, courts and government and writes features about interesting subjects in Omaha and the surrounding counties.

Waitress who served alcohol to teen before fatal crash gets jail time, probation
Lori Jenkins, charged as accessory in 4 murders, waives speedy trial
Iowa State servers hacked, nearly 30,000 SSNs at risk
New public employee pay data: Douglas, Lancaster, Sarpy Counties, plus utilities
2nd District House race: After 8 terms, Lee Terry knows how D.C. works — and doesn't
Bellevue man is killed at Minnesota dance hall after South Sudanese basketball tourney
Spring corn planting still sputters in Nebraska, Iowa, other key states
Nebraska banking and finance director to retire
19-year-old killed in one-vehicle crash at 72nd & Shirley
Gov. Heineman vetoes bill to ease restrictions on nurse practitioners
U.S. Senate race: State Auditor Mike Foley defends Shane Osborn against ad campaign
Public defender to represent Nikko Jenkins in sentencing
Mid-America Center on track for lower operating loss
Bluffs City Council approves dozens of new numbered street lights
National Law Enforcement Memorial Week set for May
Ted Cruz backs Pete Ricketts' campaign for governor
Omahan charged with 5th-offense DUI after street race causes rollover
2 blocks of Grover Street closed
Safety board report blames pilot error in 2013 crash that killed UNO student, passenger
Omaha man accused in shooting ordered held on $75,000 bail
2 men charged with conspiracy to distribute meth held on $1 million bail each
La Vista plans meeting on sales tax proposal, 84th Street redevelopment
6-mile stretch of Highway 75 is the road not taken
Database: How much did Medicare pay your doctor?
Millard school board bans e-cigarettes from all district properties, events
< >
COLUMNISTS »
Breaking Brad: Into the claw machine! Florida kid follows Lincoln kid's lead
In Fort Lauderdale, Fla., a child climbed inside a claw machine. Hey, Florida kid: Nobody likes a copycat.
Breaking Brad: Even Chuck Hassebrook's throwing mud!
The Nebraska campaigns have turned so ugly, Democrat Chuck Hassebrook lobbed unfounded accusations at an imaginary opponent.
Breaking Brad: Kraft wiener recall is business opportunity for TD Ameritrade Park
Instead of returning the wieners, TD Ameritrade Park is calling them "cheese dogs" and charging double.
Breaking Brad: Photos with the Easter Bunny are so 2010
In a sign of the times, most kids ran out of patience waiting for a photo with the Easter Bunny at the mall, just snapped a selfie and went home.
Kelly: 70 years after a deadly D-Day rehearsal, Omahan, WWII vet will return to Europe
A World War II veteran from Omaha will return this week to Europe to commemorate a tragedy in the run-up to D-Day.
Deadline Deal thumbnail
Steam-A-Way Carpet Cleaning
$50 for 3 rooms and a Hallway up to 600 square feet
Buy Now
PHOTO GALLERIES »
< >
SPOTLIGHT »
Omaha World-Herald Contests
Enter for a chance to win great prizes.
OWH Store: Buy photos, books and articles
Buy photos, books and articles
Travel Snaps Photo
Going on Vacation? Take the Omaha World-Herald with you and you could the next Travel Snaps winner.
Click here to donate to Goodfellows
The 2011 Goodfellows fund drive provided holiday meals to nearly 5,000 families and their children, and raised more than $500,000 to help families in crisis year round.
WORLD-HERALD ALERTS »
Want to get World-Herald stories sent directly to your home or work computer? Sign up for Omaha.com's News Alerts and you will receive e-mails with the day's top stories.
Can't find what you need? Click here for site map »