Local News

Church Destroyed in Overnight Fire

Posted November 15, 1997 12:00 a.m. EST

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

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

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

"When I got the call, my heart just fell," Lynch recalls. "I just jumped out of bed, jumped into my clothes and we came up. Before I got in sight of 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 the backbone of the community.

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

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

Reverend Timmy Chavis believes the tragedy will not bring the congregation down, 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 to call home.