Investigators are not certain what sparked a blaze that destroyed a historic church in a southwest metro community one week ago, and it's possible that the cause may never be known.
Neither foul play nor arson were to blame for the fire at Church in the Maples United Methodist Church on E. Hill Street, said Norwood Young America Fire Chief Steve Zumberge. The report lists the cause as an electrical problem, but "it's still undetermined," he said Monday, a week after the fire tore through the wood-frame building that had stood for nearly 150 years. "There is a chance it could remain undetermined."
The future of the tiny Church in the Maples and the congregation is also in question, church leaders say. Members will attend services at Arlington United Methodist Church, which is about 15 miles away, at least through the holidays. Then starting in 2019, the five to 15 members who show up each Sunday will worship at nearby churches in Norwood Young America that have offered them space, said its pastor, the Rev. Eli Somers.
While Sunday marked the first services held away from home, Somers said members have handled things well as he delivered a message about shouting for joy — even when in the wilderness.
"They obviously are grieving with Christmas next week," he said. "This is not the end of the church, but a beginning."
Church in the Maples has a large historical footprint in the community. Last summer the congregation celebrated its 160th anniversary, and it marked the occasion by putting on a new roof and giving the building a new paint job. The congregation predates the building by about 10 years.
The inferno was spotted about 7 p.m. last Sunday. Flames were shooting out the front entrance, and smoke was billowing out the windows. The church had no fire alarms or sprinklers, so it's likely the blaze had been burning a long time before somebody spotted flames lapping out of the bell tower, Zumberge said.
Virtually nothing was salvageable except for the bell, which fell from the tower. Somers said the congregation will find a way to make something of it.
The building will probably be torn down in the coming weeks, and church leaders will begin looking at the congregation's future after a "fairly through process," Somers said.
The Rev. Fred Vanderwerf, superintendent of the United Methodist Church's Southern Prairie District, said Church in the Maples members are open to being folded into a new church in fast-growing Carver County.
"Out of the ashes comes an incredible opportunity," he said. "It's exciting to see the church encouraged about what might be next. They have a tremendous legacy in the community."