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Church Destroyed in Overnight Fire

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HOLLISTER — Imagine waking up to find the place you were baptized and the place youbaptized your children is gone. That's what happened to many members ofthe Haliwa-Saponi Tribe, a small group of Native American Indians thatlive in the Hollister Community. Members are turning to their faith tocope with the loss.

"It's just home," says member Gloria Lynch, "and to see it gone like thisis just heartbreaking."

Mt. Bethel Baptist Church has been home to the Hollister community fornearly 40 years. But an early morning fire gutted the tiny sanctuary.

"When I got the call, my heart just fell," Lynch recalls. "I just jumpedout of bed, jumped into my clothes and we came up. Before I got in sightof the church, I just saw the whole sky. I just said Lord have mercy."

People in Hollister call Mt. Bethel the "mother church" and say it's thebackbone of the community.

Member Ella Green can't find the words to explain how she feels about theloss. It was the church where she was baptized and married.

Investigators are calling the blaze an accidental fire. They think itprobably started somewhere in the electrical system. They say if thechurch had just had smoke detectors or some kind of sprinkler system, itmight not have been such a total loss.

Reverend Timmy Chavis believes the tragedy will not bring the congregationdown, but lift it up. Somehow, he says, the church will press on.

Members say they'll rely on their faith until they find another place tocall home.