LAUREL HILL — Though members of Woodville Pentecostal Holiness Church are mourning the memories lost in a Sunday fire that destroyed two buildings — one of them the church’s original, circa 1943 sanctuary — they are already looking forward to the congregation’s future.
Hours after the crowd of about 100 dispersed following a Sunday revival led by the Rev. Keith Speed, of Belton, South Carolina, what’s being unofficially ruled as an electrical fire destroyed the church’s main sanctuary, built in 1979, and the original structure, built in 1943 and remodeled in 2007.
“We’ve got some who are 86 years old and have been coming here since they were children,” said the Rev. Gerald “Jerry” Goins, the church’s pastor since February 1988, while surveying the ruin on Monday. “All the personal stuff throughout the years, books, all the history of the church, all that was in the office and all of it’s lost — but we’ve got the memory.
“We don’t need to understand it. God will take care of it. It’s just something that will have to happen for something better down the road — He knows the reason.”
According to Goins, he and a handful of church members had gathered at the Huddle House in Laurinburg, “drinking coffee and fellowshipping” well past 10 p.m. Not long after he returned to the parsonage, Speed, who was staying in a camper in the adjacent churchyard, started beating on his front door.
“We pulled back in the yard, walked around talking some, and everything was beautiful,” he said. “About five minutes to 11, Keith comes banging on the door and I think, ‘Oh God, who is trying to break in the house.’ I open the door and he says you better come on, there’s smoke coming from the church.”
Bill Norton, chief of Spring Hill Fire Department, said the call from Speed came in at about 11:03.
“He was so — I don’t know what you call it, I guess he was in shock — he said, the church is on fire! I said, what church? He couldn’t even think of the name of the church.”
But Norton, who lives on Camp Monroe Road, could see the flames from his home. As one woman in the churchyard said Monday, Norton had joined fellow Spring Hill firefighters — as well as those from Laurinburg, Laurel Hill, Gibson, North Scotland and four more departments from Robeson and Hoke counties — to save not just a Scotland County church, but one he has been a part of for decades.
When Norton and his crew arrived, the church was already “fully engulfed.”
Goins and Speed worked fast to get Speed’s camper out of danger, and looked on as firefighters did their best to no avail.
“In about 25 minutes the ceiling was covered and it was a complete blaze. ‘Bout 30 minutes the top fell in it, they were out here till 4 a.m. and couldn’t get it out,” Goins said.
The congregation plans to squeeze in the nearby fellowship hall, which was untouched, until a new church can be built.
For Lois Snead, the church represents many milestones in her 57 years, among them her dad’s funeral and the wedding of her son Matthew, to Jessica. That April 2014 wedding would be the sanctuary’s last.
“It’s sad to see it go up in flames but at the same time you can’t take it from here,” Snead said, placing her hand over her heart. “It’s just a blessing no one got hurt, especially that we were in there just right previously.”
Matthew, cradling a memento, wondered how it would find a place in the church’s new building.
“This is the only pane of glass that made it,” he said. “It had actually fell out of the window and was laying on the ground, so I figure when we build we should incorporate that one pane of glass. It’s good memorabilia.”
Recalling that the church was founded in 1938 beneath a tent, both Norton and Goins have high hopes for its continued role in the community.
“We’ve had everybody in the neighborhood — different colors, different pastors, farmers have stopped by — all wanting to help. We’ve been offered two churches to use. I think it will bring a unity to the county.”
Abbi Overfelt can be reached at 910-506-3023.