Wilkes churches face rebuilding after fires
October 11 2002 by Steve DeVane , BR Managing Editor

Wilkes churches face rebuilding after fires | Friday, Oct. 11, 2002

Friday, Oct. 11, 2002

Wilkes churches face rebuilding after fires

By Steve DeVane BR Managing Editor

Two N.C. Baptist churches in Wilkes County are recovering from fires believed to be intentionally set.

New Hope Baptist Church in Moravian Falls burned in the early morning hours of Aug. 24. About 24 hours later Stony Hill Baptist Church in Purlear was destroyed by fire.

New Hope is in the Brier Creek Association. Stony Hill is in the Brushy Mountain Association.

The State Bureau of Investigation has not completed an investigation into the fires, said Noelle Taylor, a N.C. Department of Justice spokesperson.

"The fires are of a suspicious nature," she said.

Church officials said arson is suspected in both.

"It's hard to imagine anybody would burn a church," said Jonah Parker, interim pastor at New Hope.

Parker lives near the fire department that responded to the fire. He heard the fire trucks leaving the station, went out on his porch to see where they were headed and went back to bed. A short while later, his phone rang.

"It was devastating," Parker said. "It's hard to imagine what it's like to watch a church burn."

A motorist passing the church had noticed the flames and called the fire department about 3 a.m. The fire department arrived about 10 minutes later, but it was too late.

"The only thing we saved (from the sanctuary building) was the church bell," Parker said. "It was a total loss."

Ken Pardue, pastor of Stony Hill Baptist Church in Purlear, said a man who lives near the church called him at about 2:20 a.m. on Aug. 25 to tell him he heard an explosion and thought he saw fire in the church. Pardue and one of the church's deacons rushed to the scene. They arrived just behind a fire truck.

"When we rounded the corner below the church it was totally engulfed in flames," he said. "We lost everything."

Parker said members at New Hope have been meeting in the church fellowship hall that was damaged but not destroyed in the fire. The church had $175,000 in insurance, which is believed to be as much as $100,000 less than needed to rebuild the burned building.

The destroyed building included the sanctuary and classrooms, Parker said. A new building will probably have a smaller sanctuary, he said.

"I told them if the Lord wants us to rebuild, He knows where the money is," Parker said.

New Hope has about 150 members on its rolls, but only about 70 resident members and about 40 in attendance on a normal Sunday.

Pardue said the Stony Hill congregation has been meeting in the West Wilkes High School cafeteria.

"We've been trying to go on like normal," he said.

The church had just broken ground for a new fellowship hall. Church members plan to go forward with that construction and meet there when it is finished, Pardue said.

Stony Hill averages about 125 in Sunday School and about 165 in worship, he said.

The church had about $331,000 in insurance. Estimates to replace the building range from $700,000 to $800,000, Pardue said.

"It's put us in an awkward position because we've always been the church that took food to others," he said. "We've never been in the position of asking for assistance."

Both churches have had people offer to help.

"We're not begging, but we'll accept any help we can get," Parker said.

New Hope has received donations of a baby grand piano and an organ.

"I quit crying about the church burning," Parker said. "Now, when I open an envelope and find a donation of $1,000, I cry again.

"There's still a lot of good people in the world."

A church in Kernersville gave Stony Hill a piano. When Pardue went to pick it up, he walked through the church's sanctuary and realized he had a new appreciation for such a place.

"I know it's just a building, but it's the building we meet to worship in," he said.

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10/11/2002 12:00:00 AM by Steve DeVane , BR Managing Editor | with 0 comments
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