Blaze of glory
On Jan. 29, ministry by Randlett United Methodist Church truly was refined by fire. A controlled burn of the parsonage, no longer habitable, provided a rare training experience for rural firefighters and, for the church in southwestern Oklahoma, saved the expense to tear down the unsafe structure, about a century old.
Pastor David Gardner described the two types of firefighter training accomplished that day. He noted such training is more easily accessed in urban areas. Gardner has previously worked as a city manager, and he is a former mayor of Grandfield.
In one type of training, the Randlett and Devol Volunteer Fire Departments conducted a search-and-rescue simulation. Firefighters, blindfolded and in full gear, including air packs, followed a buddy system to enter the smoke-filled house, then find and rescue a human dummy. During the timed exercise, other people generate breaking glass, falling wallboard, and other obstacles the team might encounter during a real fire.
The volunteer firefighters also observed how a fire moves out from its point of origination in a room.
As smoke and flames rose heavenward from the former home, the teams also implemented precautionary measures for nearby buildings.
“We not only had a prayer inside the parsonage before the big burn,” said Rev. Gardner. “We had a prayer at Sunday service to celebrate the servants who lived there, the love shared, and the ministry that continues to uphold the church universal.”
Some of the ashes were carefully buried at the site after the ground was leveled by bulldozer. Gardner said the dozer operator returned as a Sunday morning visitor at Randlett UMC.
Church member Nadine Bowles, 93, provided a historical perspective about the parsonage. “I had thoughts of many loving, dear people as I went through these memories,” she wrote. Here are some of the years she highlighted.
I remember furnishings were the responsibility of the church members, rather than the pastoral family, during the 1920s until about the ’50s. When the Oklahoma Conference changed this requirement, a few of the tables, chairs, and chests were stored in the church attic. We gradually retired all of the old odds-and-ends.
The kitchen cookstove used kerosene. An oven lifted off the burners when not needed.
When the building was complete and we were ready to assure the support for an appointed minister, the Randlett charge was combined with Grandfield. The pastoral family lived in Grandfield. Thus our parsonage remained available for rent.
Pastor Gardener said renters ultimately began using the home only for storage, eventually removing those items, and the residence sat unused for some time.