Fire guts Cowpens church sanctuary on Christmas weekend

A fire raged through the buildings of Cowpens First Baptist Church on Saturday, Dec. 26. More than a dozen local fire stations responded, but ultimately the sanctuary and the attached education building were declared a complete loss.

The fire, which started Saturday afternoon, was noticed by a church employee who notified authorities. By the time firefighters arrived, the blaze had engulfed the church buildings. The fire department was unable to save the sanctuary and education building because of concerns over structural integrity, but successfully prevented the fire from spreading to other parts of the campus, salvaging the church’s family life center.

Dozens of church members and residents from the community, along with interim pastor Kermit Morris, stood down the street and watched helplessly as the once-pristine worship center became a pile of charred rubble.

“This is a devastating loss for our church,” Morris said. “It’s heartbreaking to see the building going up in flames. My first thought was, ‘This is so sad,’ but my immediate second thought was, ‘Where are we meeting tomorrow?’ I knew it was critical for us to gather as a family on Sunday.”

The church, founded in 1878 and located in the Spartanburg area of upstate South Carolina, held services Sunday at a local high school. They plan to meet at the Broome High School Fine Arts Center again this week before returning to the church campus Jan. 10 for services in the family life center.

“We’ve had so many pastors and churches reach out, offering to help and to pray for the church,” Morris said. “Area churches are providing chairs, a sound system and other needs as we shift to meeting in the family life center.”

This is not the first time the sanctuary at Cowpens First Baptist has suffered a fire. In December 1987, while renovations were taking place, a fire caused major damage. Though not a complete loss, the sanctuary interior was severely damaged. The building reopened in 1989. Further renovations to the sanctuary were completed in 2016.

Now, all that is left are memories.

“We stood on the sidewalk for five hours and watched it burn,” Morris said. “I told them, ‘That’s not the church. That’s a bunch of buildings. The church is meeting tomorrow.’ We will always have the memories, but we are starting fresh and moving forward. God has big plans for us, and we will move forward with those plans.”

Morris said a team will reenter the buildings as soon as possible to recover anything salvageable before they are demolished. After the first of the year, the church plans to begin working with construction and architecture companies on rebuilding.

— Jonathan Howe is vice president for communications at the SBC Executive Committee.