Munford’s River of Life Church was destroyed by fire overnight.
Fire chief Jeremy Reeves said the department was dispatched just before 11:30 p.m. and the building was already 75 percent involved.
“The old part was on fire and was pretty much destroyed before we got here,” he said. “There was so much fire and we had so few resources at the time.”
Nine of the other 10 fire departments in the county – Atoka, Brighton, Covington, Mason, Tipton County, Gilt Edge, Quito Drummonds, Three Star, and Charleston – showed up to help get the blaze under control. Reeves said it took about eight hours and the fire hydrants were frozen as firefighters arrived. The temperature was 18 degrees.
The fire remains under investigation.
This is the third fire for the congregation in its 93 years.
According to “River of Life: A History of Munford First Assembly of God Church,” written by Atoka Alvin Plexico, Ph. D., the church was born from revival just as the Great Depression began. Members of the congregation grew cotton to help raise money for a building and, on Christmas Eve 1929, women and children pulled the cotton stalks to clear the site where the church stands as the men dug the foundation. Church services were held in various homes until the building was completed.
Tragedy first struck not too long after. Church history reports the original building was doused in coal oil and burned, so the congregation was forced back into using a tent as they did in the very early days of revival.
The second building was constructed in the 1930s and it burned down on Oct. 20, 1946 after a member of the church lit the basement stove to warm up the church. A special business meeting was called by the pastor that morning and it was decided the congregation would have the church rebuilt on its present lot.
While the third building was constructed, in the late 1940s, Munford Presbyterian Church offered its building to Munford Assembly of God’s congregants for worship on Sunday afternoons. In a personal interview Dr. Plexico conducted with Faye Ellis in 2013, she told him the young people of the church volunteered to chop and pick cotton to help raise money.
“We wall wanted to do our part, she said. “Even the children wanted to do their part to help rebuild the church.”
A new sanctuary was added and completed in September 1974. They have since added the gym, which is where Pastor Greg Tempke said services will continue.
He addressed his congregation early Friday morning via video.
“We just want you to know we love you and God’s in control,” he said. “We have lost our building but we have not lost our church. We are the church. And we are thankful tonight that faith is arising in the hearts of God’s people. God has a plan.”
There were no injuries reported.