HICKSTOWN – A historic country church left a void in the hearts of many when it was set on fire last November.
Richland Church was a beacon of hope to all the people of Hickstown who saw generations of families go through two world wars, Korea, Vietnam, the Gulf War and so much loss, disease, death and of desperation, Lena Morsch said on the Richland Church Facebook page. night it burned down.
A member of Morsch’s family offers a reward of $ 1,000 to anyone with information leading to an arrest in the case.
Lena Morsch and her sister, Gina Morsch, have spent countless years of their lives in this church with their family and friends.
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The two were trying to reopen the doors of the church which had been closed for five years.
When their plan caught fire with the building, the whole community mourned the loss of a longtime friend.
On the evening of November 1, Gina Morsch was leaving her family farm to return to Harrisburg with her brother when she saw a vehicle enter the church parking lot, Gina Morsch said.
She tried to convince her brother to take them there to check out, but in the end, that wasn’t the case.
Later that night, she received a message that blew her away.
âAll the way back to Saline County I had the most horrible feeling in my stomach because it looked so suspicious,â Gina Morsch said. âBy the time we got home, another relative sent me a photo. They said, ‘I know you don’t want to hear this, but the church is right now on fire.’ I cannot describe to you how I felt.
The Rosiclair Fire Department received the call about the blaze that night, and the Hardin County Sheriff’s Office dispatched units to the scene, said Jessica Fricker, the head of the sheriff’s office.
Firefighters and staff from the Illinois Fire Department have been called in to investigate the blaze, Fricker said.
Gina Morsch has spent most of her life in this church and losing it has broken her heart.
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âIt was really like someone called me to tell me that a family member had passed away,â Gina Morsch. âIt’s strange to describe a building with so much meaning, but it really felt like someone in our family had been the victim of a horrific crime. I have nightmares about it now because of the guilt I feel about not being more persistent than we are checking out. So much unbelief that anybody could burn down such a pretty little church that had so much history.
Shelly Deal, someone who lives near the church, had the foresight to salvage some of the church’s historic artifacts years ago.
âI have a lot of articles and records that I released two or three years ago. So all is not lost, but it’s just a shame that someone is doing this for no reason. I do not understand it.
She was able to collect records, a cross and other unique items.
âIt’s a huge relief because unfortunately I haven’t absorbed everything my elders tried to tell me about the history of the church,â said Gina Morsch. “It’s kind of that divine intervention that she had the foresight to take these things out.”
These items aside, countless memories remain in the minds of those who once visited Richland Church.
Lena and Gina Morsch were destined to be part of the Church of Richland, like many others.
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âI grew up there. It is something that generations of our family have done, âsaid Gina Morsch. âThey went to church there. I had several parents who were preachers there. It all started with our great-great-grandmother who was the first member there in 1887 when the building was built.
Many local families, including the Robinson, Stacy and Ralph families, are just a few examples of the church’s deep roots within the community, according to Lena Morsch.
“It was very important for the lives of several generations of people,” said Gina Morsch. âThey left the doors of the church open when it was active so that everyone could enter. It’s a bit like going to your grandmother’s. It never changed. It was familiar.
The building held countless memories for all who attended – from vacation and choir services to late night piano practice.
âWe could always stop and go into the church and play the piano,â said Gina Morsch. âIt really helped shape me as a person, I think. I don’t know what I would have done if I hadn’t had this little place to go when I had a hard time.
However, not all memories were funny.
The church was built with hand-made nails and wood from many local farms and even contained hand-made pews.
It was in one of these benches that Gina Morsch spent her last moments in church, holding her mother’s hand while weeping for her uncle.
Her mother died three weeks later, said Gina Morsch.
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This was the main reason for the closure of the church. As more and more of the church elders died, the congregation thinned out.
The Richland Church then had no choice but to close its doors, cut off the electricity and cease services five years ago.
While the doors of the church remained closed until its last day, there was hope that it would not remain so forever.
Lena and Gina Morsch had spoken with a pastor and they were working to restore power, Gina Morsch said.
âAlthough the service had not taken place for a few years, we were hoping to restore the church and rebuild a congregation,â Lena Morsch said on Facebook. âIt was a comfort to know that he was still up, waiting for a new day. We cannot imagine that the unthinkable has happened. It is a horrible loss!
They were even looking for groups who could solve any problems with the building.
After hours of thinking, Gina Morsch decided that she was planning to try and rebuild the church if they were allowed to do so on the same land.
âI don’t want this to be the end of the church. The end of the story. Our ancestors told us about it and I really feel bad that I wasn’t more involved in it. It looks like a lot of those old little country churches are becoming a thing of the past. It is an endangered species. I don’t know if the church could be supported or if there would be enough interest, but I’m more than willing to give it a try.
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