JAMES ISLAND, S.C. (WCBD) – A James Island church community is working to pick up the pieces after an early morning fire. Much of the Fort Johnson Baptist Church sanctuary was destroyed in the fire and while the church’s pastor and members say it was a devastating morning, they’re excited to rebuild through community faith.
Crews responded to a fire at Fort Johnson Baptist Church on James Island Thursday morning after a possible lightning strike.
A photo shared with the Town of James Island shows flames coming off the church’s steeple.
Deputy Fire Chief with the James Island Fire Department told News 2 the sanctuary suffered heavy damages, especially along the roofline.
He said the church was smoking when crews arrived, and then the flames grew much bigger.
The church’s pastor and congregation say the fire won’t keep them from rebuilding their sanctuary.
“It’s just, it’s a hard day but we are going to get through this,” says Nicki Kerzey who attends Fort Johnson Baptist Church and teaches at it’s school.
“Overwhelmed, a little sad,” says Pastor Marty Middleton. “There are a lot of people who have memories here.”
The Fort Johnson Baptist Church remained open through COVID-19. Members say it’s sanctuary holds a deeper meaning than just Sunday service.
“Fort Johnson Baptist Church was open when a lot of churches weren’t and that gave me hope and I know it gave others hope,” says Kerzey. “It’s a place we can come when a lot of the world is heavy right now.”
Pastor Middleton says the church was struck by lightning Wednesday night and likely smoldered overnight before catching fire just after 8 AM Thursday morning. Staff including Kerzey noticed the smoke before alerting others and evacuating the area.
“We saw the smoke coming out and we just got everybody out,” says Kerzey.
“Seeing that everyone was safe and the building although it was on fire, realizing that buildings can be replaced, it kind of gave a sense of calm,” says Pastor Middleton.
The church is likely a total loss left with a collapsed roof. Pastor Middleton says he’s been overwhelmed with support coming from the community in the form of texts, calls and even food.
“It’s one of those where you wonder, a few days ago can anything else happen and then you get a phone call at 8:15 AM this morning saying your church steeple is on fire,” says Pastor Middleton.
Now the congregation is rising from the ashes to rebuild stronger than ever before.
“I’ve been thinking through how we can kind of rebuild after COVID and after the pandemic and now we have a physical sense of rebuilding and I think it’s really put an exclamation point on what’s happening,” says Pastor Middleton.
“We just have to stick together and look for the positive because there is something that can come out of this,” says Kerzey. “Not sure what it is but there’s something that can come out of this.”
It took about two hours to get the fire under control. An investigation is under control.
Officials say its likely services will not be held in that sanctuary for some time. Pastor Middleton says instead the church has a large gym they plan to set up and use for church service for the time being while working through the rebuild.
Count on us for updates.