Saturday, August 11, 2001

Fire destroys church but not faith

Members already finding temporary worship space

By David Eck
Enquirer Contributor

        MOUNT ORAB — For hours Friday, members made their way to First Baptist Church on West Main Street.

        They came not for worship, but to pray for healing and wisdom. And to share their sorrow.

        Behind them, firefighters poured heavy streams of water on the smoldering remains of their church.

        An early morning blaze destroyed the church and brought out dozens of firefighters from two counties. The blaze, which broke out about 4:30 a.m., was probably caused by a lightning strike, Mount Orab Fire Chief Kevin Riley said.

        There were no injuries. Damage was set at $1.2 million. An investigation into the fire is being headed by mount Orab fire officials and investigators from the Ohio State Fire Marshal's office.

        The 150 families that make up the church will worship this weekend in the local high school, church officials said.

        Ken Croley of nearby Pike Township arrived at 5:30 a.m. to find the church he has attended for 18 years a burning hulk.

        “My first concern was for my pastor,” he said. “I'm not bitter. I know that God can work through adversity.”

        Leaning heavily on a cane, the Rev. Bob Hatcher, who has led this church for 23 years, talked about the future. He looked ahead and saw a new church building teeming with a larger congregation.

        “Our attitude is the church didn't burn, the building where the church meets did,” he said. “It's a setback in convenience, but it's an opportunity in ministry. It's an opportunity to show the community how Christianity works.”

        He said local churches have offered support and the use of their buildings.

        The original section of the church building was dedicated in 1974 and an addition was finished in the 1990s. The church dates to 1956.

        The fire took the church's scrapbooks, written history and Pastor Hatcher's library of 1,000 books.

        “We're a family-oriented church,” the pastor said in a soft voice. “We're a close church, so when one hurts, the others hurt.”

        Families from throughout this rural county attend First Baptist. It is well known in the area, residents said.

        “I probably know about 80 percent of the members who go here and it's going to have a pretty devastating effect on the community,” Chief Riley said.

        Because of the fire's intensity and the type of building, fire crews did not attack the blaze from the inside, the chief said. Instead they directed water into the church from aerial trucks and fire hoses.

        By Friday afternoon, thick brown smoke continued to drift from the rubble. The red brick walls were all that remained standing.

        But church and fire officials were grateful that everyone stayed safe.

        “We've got the greatest adviser in the universe, but we need to make sure we're in tune with him,” Pastor Hatcher said. “This is an opportunity for us to show what we're made of. I think it'll pull us together.”


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