Pastor D.J. Smith didn’t expect to be preaching in a tent July 18, right next to the ashes of his church’s building.
But he said he’s grateful because it could’ve been a different kind of service.
It could’ve been a funeral.
On the evening of July 15, lightning hit the building of Hurricane Baptist Church, Gilbertown, and it was quickly engulfed in flames. A neighbor across the street happened to walk outside and see it and called 911.
But not only that — he rushed over to bang on the door of the parsonage, which housed a young family who had recently moved back to town. The couple had just put their 1-year-old sons to bed in the bedroom closest to the burning church, having no idea the fire was already melting the siding off their home’s outside walls.
And a propane tank sat in between the church and the house.
The neighbor and the young father were able to get everyone out of the parsonage and disconnect the gas tank before things turned tragic.
“Had he not walked out of his home and seen the flames, I believe I would’ve preached a funeral the next Sunday,” Smith said. “All glory goes to God on that. It was just His hand working, and the church really recognizes that. It’s a miracle story.”
In that tent service in the parking lot the following Sunday, the mother gave a testimony, and the church “can look back and see the hand of God working even in a bad situation,” Smith said.
That goes for the next Sunday too — a Methodist church down the road that had closed its doors in recent years offered its building to Hurricane Baptist to meet in until they rebuild.
The rebuilding process is “almost overwhelming” to think about, said church member Jeremy Giles, who grew up at Hurricane Baptist and lives a half mile away.
Though the parsonage and a storage building survived, the sanctuary, fellowship hall and classrooms were a total loss. The church — founded in 1816 — is one of the oldest in the state, though the buildings weren’t the original. Smith believes they were built on the current spot in the 1960s and added onto in the ’80s.
“There are people in my church who grew up with that building and watched the progress being made on it,” Smith said. “There are definitely some emotional ties to that building.”
But Giles said the people of Hurricane Baptist may be “down,” they’re “not out.”
Smith said all he’s heard from his congregation is “peace and encouragement and looking toward what is to come.”
And churches of all denominations in the area have reached out to the church to offer help and support.
“It’s encouraging when you are surrounded by people who care,” Smith said.