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Fire Destroys Cumberland Church

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FAYETTEVILLE — As flames consumed the Beauty Spot Missionary Baptist Church early Friday morning, worshipers could only watch and cry.

The western Cumberland County church was scheduled to open the doors of a new sanctuary a week from Sunday. As flames pierced the night sky, those plans burned with the church.

"You don't know what to think -- how to react," associate minister Earnest Parish says. "Through prayer, we can receive comfort."

About 50 firefighters knocked down the three-alarm blaze, which started shortly after 2 a.m. in the new sanctuary. The flames were spotted by a firefighter, on his way back from an earlier fire at a different location.

The church blaze was so intense that firefighters could not get inside to battle the flames. The church's roof and steeple collapsed, and within 30 minutes the building had burned down. Fire destroyed the new sanctuary and an older fellowship hall.

Investigators believe the cause of the fire was electrical.

This was the 110-year-old congregation's fourth church, built in the same spot as the third.

After dawn broke, church members gathered to examine what was left. The roof and steeple are gone, and the windows were shattered. The fire created a storm of emotions.

"It gives us an opportunity to be more humble and realize our will is not ultimately God's will," says associate minister William Houston. "It lets us realize even though we were looking to go into our new sanctuary, things happen in God's time."

The congregation found blessings in the ashes: No one was injured, and old church artifacts had not yet been moved into the new sanctuary.

Those relics of the past will move into a new building eventually. Minnie McNeill Ray, whose grandfather was the church's first pastor, has been a member of the church for 71 years. She says they will rebuild.

"You've got to keep your faith," she says.

This Sunday, services will be held in the church's parking lot. A nearby Hoke County church will host future services until the church can rebuild.

Investigators say the new sanctuary's builder had risk insurance. They plan to look at the policy to see if it will cover damage to the entire building, which is estimated at close to $1 million.