Despite damage, Wednesday services go on at church

Published 12:00 am Thursday, April 7, 2011

By Karissa Minn
Although a fire burned down the Corriher Heights Baptist Church building Tuesday, the flames didn’t destroy the church — not even for one day.
The congregation held its regular Wednesday night service in a fellowship hall building just behind the sanctuary, located at 1980 N.C. 153 in southern Rowan County.
Pastor Chris Pethel said it may take a year or more to rebuild, and the church will continue meeting in the fellowship hall for “as long as it takes.” Christ is the light of the world, Pethel said, and the people of his church are supposed to shine with it.
“In 1950, God decided he wanted the light to be on this spot in this community,” he said. “We’re not going to let that light go out, even for our Wednesday service.”
Pethel choked up as he talked about the help and compassion the church has received, including a plastic bag containing a few coins and notes scribbled by well-meaning children. “That’s a real fortune,” he said quietly.
During the service, Pethel said the church has been offered several venues, including funeral home chapels, other church sanctuaries and even the Kannapolis Intimidators stadium.
“I want to say thank you to the local pastors, churches and others, because there’s been such an outpouring of love and caring,” he said. “But we plan to stay and keep the light burning where God planted it.”
Hazel Wilson has been a member of Corriher Heights for 30 years, and her husband Bruce joined 13 years ago. She said it broke her heart to hear about the blaze.
“That was my life since 1971,” she said. “My son and his wife got married in that church.”
Wilson said her children grew up in a nearby house and attended the church since they were little. Losing a place with so many memories is sad, she said.
“But God knows what he’s doing, and he’s making a way,” Wilson said, then added with a smile, “Maybe it’s for a bigger and better church.”Pethel said workers have salvaged the church bell, its steel cross from the steeple and part of a stain glass window. They will be displayed as a memorial in the new building.
Other keepsakes were found inside the building, including a singed Bible belonging to 11-year-old Brooke Gray. It was a gift from her father, she said.
Two days after Arnold and Diane Douthit joined Corriher Heights, it burned. Lightning struck at about 5:30 a.m. Tuesday morning, igniting the blaze.
“There’s shock, but not devastation,” Arnold said. “I know the folks, I know the pastor and I know we’ll get through.”
Diane said she helped clean debris from the fellowship hall, which was largely undamaged by the fire, and set up for church Wednesday. The building didn’t have power for most of the day, she said, but its lights were shining for the evening service.
New Grace Baptist Church in Concord donated the pews, pulpit and communion table that have helped transform the fellowship hall into a sanctuary. The hymnals are gifts from West A Tabernacle Baptist Church in Kannapolis.
“With the help of all these different churches, we’re able to have church tonight,” Diane said. “We’re very thankful for that.”
The congregation sang hymns a cappella Wednesday. The church’s old piano was destroyed, and the new one had yet to be tuned.
At the start of the service, Pethel read part of Ecclesiastes 3: “To everything there is a season. … A time to break down and a time to build up. A time to weep and a time to laugh.”
Pethel said the church has seen a time of breaking down, but the time for building up has come. His own tears of grief have turned to tears of joy, he said, because “the church of the living God is alive and well.”
Contact reporter Karissa Minn at 704-797-4222.