SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — The iron yoke and the bell that called people to worship since 1900 at Holy Innocents Episcopal church in Parmelee were retrieved from the rubble this weekend after a Saturday fire destroyed the church.
“It’s cracked. It can’t be fixed,” said the Rev. Lauren Stanley the canon, or assistant to the Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese in South Dakota. The fire and the fall from its perch in the church’s steeple damaged the bell enough to change its shape. “Now, it’s oval instead of round,” Stanley said.
Stanley said the background of the bell had been checked in 2015 and based on that research, they know the damaged bell can’t be repaired.
But only two days after Saturday’s fire, Stanley, Zollie Moran, a senior lay leader at the church, and Bishop Jonathan Folts said the community has vowed to rebuild the church on the Rosebud Reservation.
“We will rise up from the ashes,” Folts said.
Church and community members gathered at the fire scene over the weekend and Monday much like they’d gather for a funeral.
“Right now, all of us are just mourning (the loss),” Stanley said of the process to heal toward eventual rebuilding.
“All folks felt like this was a punch gut,” Folts said. Folts referred to verses in First Corinthians that state when one member of the church body is hurting, all hurt. Mourning, though, is healthy, he said.
Holy Innocents is more than the building but there is strong attachment to a structure, which could be seen across the plains near Parmelee.
“I live two miles away and I can see it from my back porch,” Moran said.
“It’s very, very rural,” Kenny Provincial, the chief of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe volunteer fire department, said of Parmelee and the church. “It’s quite a ways (from other towns).”
The church is about 13 miles from Rosebud, where Provincial was when he responded to the fire on Saturday morning. He estimated the call came around 8:30 a.m.
“When the (law enforcement) officer called, he advised me that the church was fully engulfed,” Provincial said.
When he arrived, “at that time, the south wall had already collapsed,” Provincial said. “I’d say the church had been burning maybe two hours or longer.”
Nothing could be done to save the church.
Firefighters focused on saving the church’s hall and protecting the nearby electrical lines, Provincial said.
“After that, you mop it up,” Provincial said of the fire scene.
The fire and heat blew out one of the stained glass windows, Stanley said. A second window was destroyed when the roof collapsed, she said.
Stanley said pieces of the windows were recovered in the hopes of possibly making a mosaic.
An altar cross was also pulled from the rubble.
The cross will be used in worship services that will continue in the church’s hall.
The South Dakota State Fire Marshal’s office was also analyzing the fire scene on Monday.
Folts said he was told the Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms would be at the site next week.
The state fire marshal’s office said it is assisting at the request of the tribal officials and the ATF.
Officials will be working to determine the cause of the fire. Those involved in Holy Innocents are working to help each other deal with the loss and the plan for the future.
“I was baptized here. I was confirmed here as a teenager. I was married in this church,” Moran said.
Now, she is following the example of her Auntie Altine by being a lay leader in the church.
Moran has been taking phone calls and listening. “All of the stories, people who were baptized here, confirmed here. All those times, everybody in the community has ties to the church. It goes way back,” Moran said.
Folts said while average worship attendance may not be large, a funeral that draws 100 or more attendees, shows the importance of the church’s spiritual role in the community.
Moran vowed to do as much as she could to rebuild the church. “We as a community, we will get it done,” Moran said.
In the future, the fire can serve a reminder of resiliency, Folts said. “Back in 2023, the church building burnt to the ground but we didn’t let that defeat us,” he said.
Special agent supervisor Robert Sedlmajer stressed that anyone with any information about the fire should contact tribal police at (605) 747-5928 or by Facebook. Sedlmajer said the church may have possibly been getting some renovations.