Congregation saddened after church burns to ground


CHESTERVILLE, Ill. (WCIA) — A church in Douglas County is destroyed after a fire broke out early this morning.

It happened at Sunnyside Mennonite Church in Chesterville.

“All at once, the sky just lit up really bright,” said Pastor Larry Rocke.

He watched as the church he called home turned to ashes.

Firefighters got the call around 2 in the morning.

“I thought maybe from what it looks like on the outside that maybe we can cut it off and save it, but within a few minutes it had a run the length attic,” said Arthur Fire Chief Chris Helton.

The wind pushed the flames to spread quickly. The fire had too big of a head start.

“When it gets past a certain point where you can’t save anything, then it’s easier to clean up if you let some of it burn,” said Helton.

But underneath all the debris are people who’ve made countless memories together.

The congregation is 150 members strong.

“[There’s] a lot of caring people that come here every Sunday to worship,” said Rocke. “[It’s] unbelievable and hard to grasp.

But he says faith isn’t housed only within church walls. It can be present anywhere.

“This is not the church. What you see is a building that has burned and collapsed, but the church is still alive. We’re going to rise up and continue worshiping.”

Rocke also says the church is in the process of finding a temporary place to hold services.

The fire chief says no one was hurt. It started in the north end of the church, but the State Fire Marshal is still determining an exact cause.

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