Four Pekin construction workers ran for their lives Monday morning when the small church they were building came apart and crashed down on them. The paster of the small, struggling Baptist church heard the crash, ran to help, then hit his knees to thank God that none of the men were hurt.
— The first crack of lumber splintering sounded like a pistol shot. It sent Kinsman McGlothlin and his three construction co-workers running for their lives as the frame of the roof of the new South Pekin Community Fellowship General Baptist Church collapsed around them.
"It sounded like a big tree falling," said Jim Smith, one of the four lucky workers who escaped without a scratch Monday morning.
"It sounded like the whole forest falling," McGlothlin said. "When I got out I just about puked."
Pastor Dowice Ashley, who is 72, was around back building a retaining wall when his new church began to fall down.
"I was scooping mud and just turned and rushed out," Ashley said. "I was praying the whole way, ‘Lord, don’t let anyone be hurt.’ When I saw that all four workers were out, I hit my knees and thanked God."
The new church was being built behind the old church at 110 E. Main Street, on the village’s main drag. The old church was a grocery store before Ashley and his congregation converted it in 1989.
About 7:30 a.m., Smith, McGlothlin, his son Jason McGlothlin and a friend whose nickname is Seven, all of Ken’s Builders in Pekin, were cutting lumber on the ground beneath 41 exposed trusses. The crew planned to attach sheeting to the trusses on Monday in preparation of roofing the new church later this week.
For unknown reasons, the truss on the far end of the new church gave way and fell inward. That created a domino effect as each 485-pound truss fell into the next one in the direction of the old church. But the last trusses to fall — the ones nearest the old church — fell propped up against that structure, creating a gap big enough for the four men to escape through. The collapse lasted seconds.
"The old church saved them," Ashley said. "Otherwise they would have been crushed."
"When I was running I was thinking ‘This is it. We’re done.’ Then when the trusses hit the church, they stopped falling."
Said Smith, "I’ve heard of it happening to other crews, but I never saw anything like it myself."
Community Fellowship is not a big or wealthy church. A board on the back wall of the sanctuary lists the record attendance (55), last week’s Sunday School attendance (14), the offering on Sunday ($401) and the offering the previous Sunday ($387). Most of the money goes toward the new church. Pastor Ashley volunteers his time.
"This new church means a lot to the congregation," Ashley said. "It means a lot to me. I’m here to build a church."
The felled trusses were little more than a pile of scrap lumber Monday morning.
"They’re all sprung and twisted," McGlothlin said. "You wouldn’t trust them to put them back up."
The job was insured ("I wouldn’t drive a nail without insurance," McGlothlin said.) The crew waited for an insurance adjustor to arrive before beginning the task of clearing the site and beginning anew.
A teenage boy who belonged to the small congregation approached Ashley in the sanctuary of the old church. He had a worried expression on his face.
"What happened to the church, pastor," the boy asked.
"Just a little accident," Ashley said. "It’s all right."
"We ain’t going to be in the church as soon as we thought, are we?" the boy asked.
"You tell everybody it’s just a little setback. A minor delay," Ashley said.
The boy left.
"Sometimes things happen for a purpose we don’t know or understand," Ashley said. "All we can know is life is like it is, and you have to take life like it is."
Scott Hilyard can be reached at 686-3244 or firstname.lastname@example.org.