Stedman, N.C. — Members of a Cumberland County church combed through the ashes Monday after a weekend fire destroyed their sanctuary and damaged their fellowship hall.
Investigators said an electrical short sparked the Saturday morning fire in Oak Grove Pentecostal Free Will Baptist Church in Stedman. No injuries were reported.
The 101-year-old church has about 100 members, many of whom have belonged to the church their entire lives.
"This is like losing a family, almost," Joel Morris Jr. said, choking back tears. "(For) myself and my wife, this was our life, and it's sad."
Church members and fire restoration crews couldn't access some areas of the 33-year-old building, at 6535 Oak Grove Church Road, on Monday because of a lack of ventilation. The crews braced a cracked brick wall so it wouldn't collapse to the outside, and they pulled charred pews and singed hymnals from the church as they began the recovery process.
A guitar recovered from beneath the front pew has provided the congregation with a sign that they will survive, said Rev. David Taylor, the church's pastor.
"The top part was fused to the bottom part of the case," Taylor said. "When we finally cut through (the case) and got into it and pulled it open ... well, the guitar was In there and looked like it was in perfect condition."
He plans to restring the guitar so it can be used at church services next Sunday. The congregation plans to meet in a nearby building for the foreseeable future.
Taylor said the church has insurance, which will help cover rebuilding costs, but he noted that the community also is reaching out to support the church.
A local store clerk gave Taylor's granddaughter $100 after the girl said that the fire had burned the piano bench where her grandmother played music during church services, the minister said.
A woman who lives down the street from the church also offered to provide whatever she could to help.