Congregation vows to rebuild after fire

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, April 6, 2011

By Shelley Smith
As the last flames inside Corriher Heights Baptist Church were extinguished Tuesday, firefighters, neighbors and church members stood silently looking at the remains of what was once an anchor in their community.
Firefighters from multiple departments fought the fire at 1980 N.C. 153 for several hours. The roof of the church collapsed, and the steeple fell just inside the doors of the sanctuary. All that remains are the walls of the church, a billboard from the fellowship hall, and a small amount of furniture.
Corriher Heights Pastor Chris Pethel said that hours into the fire he received several invitations from area pastors, inviting the congregation of Corriher Heights to join worship services.
But Pethel has other plans: He hopes to hold the 11 a.m. Sunday worship service at Corriher Heights this Sunday, after work begins clearing out the debris from the fellowship hall this afternoon.
“God’s greater than fire,” Pethel said. “We’ll rebuild.”
The Rowan County Fire Marshal’s Office said a witness saw lightning strike the church about 5:30 a.m., which they say is what set the church ablaze.
Arvil Black, 71, lives behind the church, and has been attending it since he was 14. He heard the lightning strike, but he thought a transformer had blown, so he went back to bed.
Black said his wife’s son went to the church, saw smoke, and opened the front doors to find the pews on fire.
“The way I look at it, it had to be the Lord’s work,” Black said. “And lightning. You can’t control nature.”
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Janet Pethel, wife of Chris Pethel, says Sunday’s worship services were the best in some time.
“Sunday we had the best services,” she said. “There was something special about our services.
“In fact, Sunday night we sat in our living room talking about just how sweet the Lord had been Sunday.”
But even though the memories are gone, she said, “we know the Lord has spoken and moved us in a new direction.”
The church had recently finalized blueprints for a new sanctuary, and planned to use the old sanctuary and fellowship hall as Sunday school classrooms. And now the plans will change, members say.
“We’re gonna have a brand new church,” Chairman of the Deacon Board Bruce Wilson said of the very church where he and his wife, Hazel, became Christians 40 years ago. “There’s a reason for this — get it out of the way so we can build a new one.”
Pethel said he doesn’t believe the fire was an “attempt of Satan to stop the church.”
“I know that God is in control of all things, and if his hand’s in this, then it’s for the better,” he said.
And although he and the congregation will take a while to heal, he said, they’ll, “put their arms around each other.”
“We’ll love each other,” he said. “We’ll do a lot of praying and we’ll do a lot of seeking God’s will.
“God’s blessed us. We have no complaints, we have no regrets.”
Reporter Shelley Smith can be contacted at 704-797-4246.