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Historic Memphis Church Burns

MEMPHIS, Tennessee (AP) -- Fire swept through a historic downtown church early Friday, collapsing its steeple and flicking off embers that set fire to two other buildings, one of them 22 stories tall.

No injuries were immediately reported.

The First United Methodist Church, built in 1893, was largely destroyed. Its roof caved in, the steeple toppled, and some of the walls crumbled onto the streets. The flames then spread to two other buildings about three blocks from the church, including the Lincoln American Tower, once the tallest building in Memphis.

A developer was renovating one of the buildings into condominiums.

The Rev. Martha Wagley, pastor of the church, said members of her congregation gathered on the sidewalks as the building burned, crying and hugging and telling stories of who was "married and buried" in the building and things that had happened in worship services.

Wagley said her church is a "seven day a week" church with a food pantry and other ministries to people downtown.

"The building is lost, but not the church," Wagley said.

Copyright 2006 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed

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