By Mary Beth Kelton, Stacy Fannin and Evan Duncan
The congregation of First Baptist Church of Temple met Sunday in the Frank
W. Mayborn Convention Center to worship God and grieve the disaster that caused an estimated $15 million worth of damage to their buildings.
The Bureau of Alcohol, Firearms, Tobacco and Explosives is still investigating the fire that left the First Baptist complex in ruins Tuesday, Jan. 19.
The cause of the burn is unknown, but because of the magnitude of the blaze, ATF must handle the scene. Recent acts of arson at east Texas churches add to the seriousness of the investigation.
The first fire engine arrived at the church at 5:26 a.m., just two minutes after
the siren rang. Two more alarms would follow.
The sanctuary and building on the north end received the worst damage.
Member Dan Bass watched as the flames spread from the offices to the sanctuary.
“I keep telling myself it’s just a building and it’s nothing like what’s happening in Haiti,” he said. “But I got married in that church.”
The roof collapsed into the sanctuary, and the church windows glowed orange as the inside burned.
Many churchgoers went to the site in the early hours of the morning to comfort each other and to hope. One of the more prominent members of FBC of Temple, chairman of the deacons, businessman and UMHB contributor, Drayton McLane, arrived at about 10 a.m.
“I’ve been in this church since 1966, and my children and my wife still go here. My kids grew up in this church and were baptized in this church,” he said. “It’s just devastating. But the Lord has good things in store for all of us, so we will rise up out of the ashes.”
Cheryl Jones arrived on the scene around 7 a.m. She has been a member at the church for 17 years.
“I have the fondest memories,” she said. “It’s not the building that makes the church; it’s the people that make the church. We are devastated by the loss.”
Jones said FBC recently purchased land between Temple and Belton. The large piece of property is intended to be the site of a new west campus.
“We’ve already started our future plans to grow and expand,” she said. “We will figure it out.”
Neighboring Christ Episcopal Church provided drinks and food for the fi refi ghters and people who were saddened by the loss of their sanctuary.
“It could have been us,” said Sally Low, Christ Episcopal Church member.
FBC children’s minister Jonathan Brown said he received a phone call at 6:05 a.m. from the music minister.
“We know the Lord is going to take care of us,” he said. “The church has been here a long time, and some people have been here a long time. It’s hard for them to see their church burn.”
Martin Knox has been the pastor at First Baptist since 2003.
“If you live at a preacher’s house and the phone rings in the night, it’s usually not a good sign,” he said. “It’s a very sad day for our church. A church has a lot of emotional attachment. We baptize our believers in them, and we have funerals to say goodbye to our loved ones. The church is God’s people; we’re going to be OK. We’re going to move forward together.”
Knox said the specific damaged parts in the north building are the offices, choir suite, fellowship hall space and some classrooms.
“We installed fire doors in ’03, and it appears that those worked fairly well,” he said. “The fire did not move into the building where the child care takes place, Sunday school and our historical gallery.”
This is not the only fire incident First Baptist Temple has experienced.
“The previous sanctuary before this one burned down in the 1930s,” Knox
said. “In the midst of the Depression this one was built.”
At a prayer service Tuesday evening, members packed into the youth building for a time of worship and community. Several members who remember the fire from 70 years ago were recognized.
Other local churches have offered their facilities and assistance.
Junior organismal biology major Jessica Morgan has been attending First Baptist for five years.
“It’s really wonderful to see how united and hopeful everyone is,” she said, “and how much help and support we’re receiving from the community.”
Services will be held in the youth building and at the First United Methodist
Church for the time being.
Knox confirmed the church has purchased land, but future plans are undecided.
“We don’t know,” Knox said. “We will do what God wants us to do, and we will determine that at a later date. We have a faithful God who is going to take care of us. We’re his people, and he will walk us through this.”