Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Church Fire Kindles New Start for Worshipers in Georgia; Members Are Sure Camden's Oldest African-American Church Will Rebuild

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Church Fire Kindles New Start for Worshipers in Georgia; Members Are Sure Camden's Oldest African-American Church Will Rebuild

Article excerpt

Byline: Gordon Jackson, The Times-Union

ST. MARYS, Ga. -- Viola Drummond's initial description of a fire that destroyed Camden County's oldest African-American church was "an act of God" that seemed to end of an important part of her life.

"I cried so many tears, I didn't have any more to shed," she said.

A day later, Drummond, of St. Marys, looked at Tuesday's fire to First African Baptist Church in St. Marys as a new beginning.

"There is no reason to question our faith," she said. "We know God knows what he's doing."

Drummond, a member of the 138-year-old church for 43 years, said she is confident the 200-member congregation will stay together, despite the uncertainty ahead.

Church leaders planned to meet Wednesday night to discuss where to hold worship services, choir rehearsals, as well as mission and usher meetings, said Larry Davis, assistant chairman of the church's deacon board.

"We want to see if we can come to agreement about what to do," Davis said.

One fact everyone Davis has talked with agrees on, however, is the church will rebuild.

"There's no doubt about it," he said.

The fire began about 4:30 p.m. Tuesday after lightning apparently struck the steeple, sparking a fire that soon roared out of control, even though firefighters were on the scene within minutes.

Raymond Roberts of St. Marys watched the fire at first but then left because he thought it was under control.

"I was shocked when I came back later and saw everything burning," Roberts said.

Karl Lewis, a volunteer firefighter in St. Marys, said the fire was difficult to extinguish because the lightning ignited support beams under the steeple and spread throughout the building in areas where water hoses could not reach.

"The flames spread unchecked through the rafters under the roof," Lewis said.

There were no injuries from the fire, officials said.

Despite strong evidence that lightning caused the blaze, state arson investigators were on the scene Wednesday to determine the cause and extent of damage. State investigators are called to the scene of any church fire, regardless of the cause, Lewis said. …

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