Fire destroys Bell County church sanctuary

Originally published on Western Recorder –

Stoney Fork—”We’ve got so much left,” the pastor of Mill Creek Baptist Church in Bell County said after a fire destroyed the church’s sanctuary on Feb. 18.

A loud “boom” followed by smoke coming from the building was witnessed by a member who lives across the street on Wednesday morning. He immediately called the fire department.

By the time the fire was extinguished, the only things left standing from the structure built in 1976 were the basement walls and the outer walls of the sanctuary.

The winter storm will make it hard to find the cause of the fire, although they assume it was electrical, Mill Creek Pastor Larry Sowders said.

Sowders said that although these things have to be decided by the congregation, “Everyone’s positive we’ll definitely build it back.”

Sowders said that the church will continue to worship in the gymnasium and fellowship hall that were not damaged by the fire.

“We’ve got a place where we can stay on our own ground and worship and not have to leave. I think that is so soothing for the elderly folks that just love that church and have been a part of it,” Sowders added.

Most of the congregation is “devastated,” he mentioned. The church formerly had a school, and the church has influenced many families. He has received many calls from people who have moved out of state.

“It’s a sentimental loss,” he said. “When we got to the gymnasium the other day, people were weeping and crying.”

Jennifer Blankenship, a member who grew up and was married in the church told WYMT-TV, “I was devastated. I was just praying that it was a mistake, that it was just smoke from one of the units outside. Anything but an actual fire.”

Although the question of why this would happen has been brought up, Sowders is encouraging the members to not let this “push them apart,” but rather use it to “pull them together.”

The community, and even other parts of the world, has rallied around the church. He received a call from a church in the Philippines saying they wanted to help and letting him know they were praying, Sowders said.

Additionally, the community and other surrounding churches have offered their help by preparing teams, donating a piano, lending a sound system and other ways.

“I think that church has been such a community outreach that people now are wanting to know what they can do to help,” Sowders said.

“You can’t out give the Lord,” he added. “The people are responding back.” (WR)