Elgin UMC Fire 20 Years Ago Brought Community Together

Hangs today in the current church's entryway.
This portrait of Jesus, knocking on a door, was one of only a few items that survived the fire. It was - and still is - considered a miracle that it sustained no damage.

Last week marked the 20-year anniversary of one of the saddest days in the history of Elgin — the fire which destroyed the Elgin United Methodist Church.
“I can’t believe it’s been 20 years,” Patricia Miller posted on the newspaper’s Facebook page when reminded of the event all those years ago. “The sad memory is so vivid.”
It was on St. Patrick’s Day, 1997, a Monday when firemen were called out shortly after school had adjourned for the day, to the Methodist Church after a staff member at the school saw smoke coming from the building.
From published reports in The Elgin Review, “the fire apparently started in a hallway between the sanctuary portion of the church and an annex to the south,” according to then Fire Chief Ray Gregor. Elgin firefighters were joined by their counterparts from Neligh to battle the fire. At the peak of activity, as many as 40 firefighters were on the scene. By the time the fire was brought under control, approximately six hours after it began, the sanctuary was a total loss. The basement sustained water and smoke damage.
The investigation that followed by the Nebraska State Fire Marshal’s office revealed the cause of the fire being arson. Later, the Elgin Police Department and Antelope County Sheriff’s Department determined “two or maybe three young juveniles had started the fire. They were taken into custody.
Yet, as bad as it was, and it was a terrible loss, some believe a miracle took place that day.
A print of Jesus Christ had hung for many years above the altar on the south wall of the church. Despite the devastation all around it, the picture was salvaged from the building showing no sign of smoke, heat or water damage. “It is a miracle, especially when you see the inside of the church, that this picture wasn’t damaged at all,” then Pastor Ray Avidano told The Elgin Review after the fire. The picture of Jesus, having survived the fire, hangs today in the entry way.
Avidano noted, back then, the outpouring of kindness made by Elgin’s other churches and their congregations — St. Boniface Catholic Church, Trinity Lutheran and Park Church all reached out to lend support. The walls were knocked down and after months of cleanup, ground was broken for a new church on November 1997. According to Elgin’s Q125 History Book, the winter of 1997-98 was mild, so mild that the church was completed and services were held on March 21 and 22, 1998.
The story of the how the community came together following the fire will forever be remembered as one of Elgin’s finest moments.

Church a total loss, 20 years ago.
An Elgin resident took this photo the following day, showing that much wasn’t left of the church.