A congregation whose sanctuary burned Feb. 8 is saying good-bye to the old but preparing to embrace new things, its pastor said.
The sanctuary of Penelope Baptist Church in Hickory burned to the ground hours before services were scheduled on Sunday. The building was a total loss.
Investigators couldn’t determine the exact cause of the fire, but foul play is not suspected.
The church’s pastor, David Grinnell, said several days after the fire that church members were doing fine.
“It was a very emotional time,” he said. “We’re coming out of it.”
The congregation is focusing on positive thoughts about the future, Grinnell said.
“We’re looking forward to some new things,” he said.
Grinnell said some new members joined the church on the day of the fire and others are asking about becoming part of the church.
“God has something new for us,” he said. “We have confidence that He knows what He’s doing.”
The church is scheduled to hold a work day Feb. 14 to get the gymnasium in the church fellowship center ready to be the sanctuary. The gymnasium will seat about 840, and its lobby will seat about 100.
The center has two rooms. One can serve as a baby nursery, and one as a toddler nursery, Grinnell said. The congregation is revamping the Sunday School to fit in the remaining space in the educational building.
“We have the essentials to continue our work and ministries,” he said. “I’ve told them that we have to continue our ministries to the community.”
Grinnell serves as chaplain at the local fire department. The church also sponsors an after-school club at a nearby elementary school called “Club 316.” An average of about 100 children attend and more than 60 have come to know the Lord, he said.
The church is also working on a partnership with a church Africa.
“Adversity comes,” Grinnell said. “When it comes, you have to keep doing what the Lord wants you to do.”
Six fire departments reportedly put out the blaze. Other church buildings, including administrative offices and the educational building, had water, smoke and minor fire damage.
Construction on the sanctuary that burned was started in 1937 and completed in 1939, according to the church web site. The church was founded in 1888.
Church leaders think the church had adequate insurance. Other churches have sent love offerings and reached out to the congregation in other ways.
“We’re blessed,” he said.
Grinnell said one church has been amazing in its efforts to help. New Hope Baptist Church in Hickory has practically adopted Penelope.
Members of New Hope came to Penelope and brought more than 300 interlocking chairs, Grinnell said. New Hope is also allowing Penelope to use a projection system as long as it needs it.
“That church has really come to our aid,” Grinnell said.
New Hope’s pastor, Dale Watts, also told Grinnell that his church prayed for Penelope on the Wednesday night after the fire.
Grinnell asked for continued prayers.
“We’re excited,” he said. “We’re anticipating new things.”
Grinnell said he’s been on the news so much since the fire, people recognize him and come up to talk to him. The church averages about 220 in attendance, but the local fire marshall told the church that as many as 800 might attend the Sunday after the fire. A news crew from Charlotte television station is also expected to attend.
Grinnell said there was a moving moment when one of the sanctuary walls fell during the fire.
As smoke cleared, two beams formed a perfect cross.
“The cross stood on top of the rubble,” he said.
Grinnell said he took it as a sign that God was still with them.
“It was a message from the Lord,” he said. “It was very comforting at that moment.”
The pastor said he thinks its best that the church will never know the exact cause of the fire.
“I was praying that they would not find a cause,” he said. “I said, ‘Lord, let’s just move on past this.’”
Church members have come together since the fire, Grinnell said.
“I think they’re more unified than they ever been,” he said.