From the ashes…

PHOTOGRAPHER:
The signage of the United Methodist Church of Fonda-Fultonville in Fultonville on Thursday. Inset, in this provided photo, the church is shown in its former glory. (The Leader-Herald/Bill Trojan)

FULTONVILLE — After he heard the news that his church had burned down Tuesday night, Ted Leto said he was a little fearful his congregation might breakup and move onto other churches.

When members of the United Methodist Church of Fonda-Fultonville held an emergency meeting at a McDonald’s Tuesday night, 28 members of the congregation showed up.

“Which is more than what we usually have on a Sunday,” Leto said. “They said we have to stick together and that meant a lot to me.”

Leto is on the Board of Trustees.

The Fonda-Fultonville United Methodist Church building, at 11 Montgomery St., burned to the ground Tuesday night during one of the heaviest snow storms of the past few decades. The 40-foot wide, by 60-foot long building, built in 1855, was mostly wood and burned quickly.

Village Historian Ryan Weitz said the church’s history in the village goes back to its days as a hard-scrabble canal community and has been a major part of the community for more than 160 years.

“They’ve been a part of the community in every single way you can imagine since [1855],” Weitz said. “If you talk to almost any member of our community, they will have a story of having gone there, whether it was the acoustic coffee house [events], to fundraisers or as members of the congregation, the parties they put on in the park. Personally, I can tell you, growing up, I attended the Reform Church in Fonda, but, every couple of months, I would be at the Methodist church because they’d be having spaghetti dinner fundraisers. I was a member of the local 4-H ‘worm drowners’ club and we would always have our meetings there.”

One of the community events the church building was well known for was the Acoustic Coffee House open mic, held the first Saturday of every month, hosted by Tom Staudle, which often drew 70 to 80 people who listened to music and enjoyed coffee and snacks. The venue was known as one of the places Sawyer Fredericks, winner of NBC’s 2015 “The Voice” competition, honed his musical skills. The facebook.com page for the Acoustic Coffee House is facebook.com/acoustic.coffeehouse.

Leto said the cause of the fire is not yet known, but he’s met with the church’s insurance company and expects the church’s insurance policy will pay the congregation enough to at least help rebuild, purchase another church or remodel an existing building.

“There’s no problem on the claim. The inspector [was] here [Wednesday] to make sure it wasn’t vandalism, which the fire chief pretty much confirmed it was not, because when they came to the fire there were no footprints in the snow,” he said. “Everybody has mixed emotions. Some people are crying. There are some people who are saying God has closed a door, but he’s opening a window. I feel, personally, that it’s made the congregation stronger. The feeling is we’re definitely going to move on with life. We’re either going to purchase or rebuild, one or the other, as quickly as possible.”

In the meantime, the members of the Fonda-Fultonville United Methodist Church plan to attend services at the Salem United Methodist Church, located at 1254 Stone Arabia Road, Fort Plain, today. The Facebook page for Salem United currently has a prominent profile photo with the words “Church is who we are, NOT where we go.”

The United Methodist Church of Fonda-Fultonville Pastor George Richards, who was hospitalized for an unrelated matter March 12, wrote a similar statement in an email message to The Leader-Herald.

“[The] congregation is grieving the loss, but they are quite strong in their resolve to overcome the loss of a building because the Church is the PEOPLE of God,” he wrote.

Leto, who was the longtime owner-operator of Red Carpet Housing, said he has some ideas about how much it will cost to rebuild a new church, but he didn’t want to release any estimates yet. He said everything will depend on what the congregation wants to do and what approach they would want to take, if they decide to build a new church.

“It all depends on what we do. I really don’t want to throw out a figure and be wrong. I mean, the plate glass windows that were in this church could have been worth close to $100,000 apiece —there were nine of them. That gives you an idea of how much it would cost to replace them,” he said. “I don’t know if we’re going to build on [the 11 Montgomery St.] site or not, or if we’re going to look for a piece of property to rebuild, because we’re kind of out of sight out of mind, we’re on a side street. We might also purchase a building a rebuild. It’s all up in the air on that.”

On Monday, Newkirk Excavating, located in Tribes Hill, is expected to be working on removing the debris from the site. Leto said the company will be looking toward the rear of the facility for a potential origin of the flames.

“They’re going to be very careful with a pick and shovel to see if they can find the cause,” he said.

Leto said the United Methodist Church of Fonda-Fultonville will be conducting a Brooks barbecue fundraiser March 30 under the Fultonville bridge and anyone interested in helping the congregation are invited to participate.

By Patricia Older

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