WINDSOR SQUARE : Church Struggles to Recover From Fire

The congregation of the Wilshire United Methodist Church today will celebrate the eighth Sunday service since a fire gutted much of its historic building, and church leaders say they are still unsure what type of recovery effort they will mount.

The June 6 fire that caused an estimated $120,000 in damage is still being investigated by fire officials, and the church’s senior pastor, the Rev. Chang Soon Lee, said discussions are continuing with insurance company officials.

In the meantime, Lee said, most services have been moved from the fire-scarred church, at 4350 Wilshire Blvd., to the vacant Scottish Rite Masonic Temple across the street.

The questions that remain for the 1,200-member congregation are how to rebuild and whether any recovery effort could coincide with a much-needed church expansion. Also, in the short term, there is the issue of continuing the church’s myriad activities with limited room.


“We are still in the primitive stages of recovery,” Lee said. “The physical recovery may be going slow, but we are not discouraged spiritually.”

The electrical fire swept through the church’s Fellowship Hall and the 68-year-old sanctuary, destroying a large pipe organ, the machinery that operates the church’s chimes, banners, decorative rails and items used during services.

Attorney Willie Barnes, who leads the church’s fledgling recovery committee, said leaders would be meeting with insurance company representatives and some general contractors this week to survey the damage and repairs.

Church leaders have noted the need for an expansion for several years, and Barnes said if financing is available the church might consider combining that project with the recovery effort.


“That’s a long way off, though, and it would require approval from several levels,” he said. “It’s very early in the process.”

The chief concern for church leaders in the meantime is to keep the church’s activities running smoothly. It has not been easy. A shortage of elbow room has programs vying for space. Besides Sunday school classes, the church has a variety of clubs and plays host to a long list of community groups, from the Cub Scouts to Alcoholics Anonymous.

Compounding the juggling problem, the congregation has to contend with some communication challenges because of its diversity. Services are held in four languages--English, Korean, Tagalog and Spanish--and worshipers hail from 40 different nations, church leaders said.

“That variety makes some things difficult, but it is also what makes us great,” said Lydia Martinez, pastor for the church’s Spanish-speaking branch. “It calls for a lot of energy on our part to keep things organized, but it also provides us with a lot of creativity.”

Last Christmas, for example, the church put on a stage re-enactment of the manger scene, with Latino angels, Korean wise men and a Filipino infant portraying the infant Jesus. “That makes a theological statement, the church as a world community, and it shows the future of the church today. That’s our strength.”