Wilson County Congregation Vows to Rebuild Church
Posted March 11, 1999 6:00 a.m. EST
STANTONSBURG — A Wilson County congregation watched its church burn Friday and made a promise: to start over. The fire that gutted the First Baptist Church in Stantonsburg destroyed the building, but not the spirit, of the congregation.
A faulty heating system may be to blame for the fire, which continued to smolder at 10 p.m., eight hours after it began. All that remains of the church is the building's facade, and many memories.
The First Baptist Church was a landmark in Stantonsburg for nearly half a century. It went up in flames around 2:00 p.m., and burned well into the night, with flames so fierce firefighters were forced to fight them from the outside.
"We initially went inside to try to hit the seat of the fire. There was so much smoke, so much in there, we just couldn't get to it, couldn't get to the fire, and then it just rapidly burned," said Asst. Fire Chief Michael Durham.
More than 100 firefighters from 11 departments and three counties responded. But the best they could do was to keep the fire from spreading to other structures. The church itself was destroyed.
The church's steeple is leaning inward about two feet and is expected to collapse.
"It was dear to us," said Pastor Max Patterson. "We were very proud of this building; it was a very beautiful building."
Patterson has been the church's pastor for 34 years. While the official cause is still under investigation, Patterson believes the fire may have started in a basement heating system that was seen smoking two days ago.
"The man came this morning and worked on it," Patterson said. "So I haven't talked with him. I don't know what was wrong with it."
The town of 700 quickly banded together, aiding weary firefighters and comforting those who feel a loss.
"I couldn't believe it," said church member Terry Harwood. "I grew up here, youth group, we did rock-a-thons and all kinds of fundraisers and stuff in the church. I got married in this church. It's bad."
"It's a heartbreak because I've seen my mother's funeral there, my daddy's funeral," said Foster Rogers, another church member. "I've seen my son get married there and those memories, you just don't forget those."
Church members vow to build a new church on the same site.
Sunday services will be held at the elementary school on South Main Street, in the school's auditorium. Services are scheduled to begin at 11 a.m.
The Wilson County Fire Marshal says he will meet the Pastor at the church Sunday morning to inspect it.