February 22nd, 2010 at 7:18 pm
KERENS – Members of First Baptist Church are seeing a fire that burned the congregation’s facilities to the ground as a new beginning.
Early Oct. 17, a blaze tore through the sanctuary, children’s area, nursery, library and office, burning them to the ground. Only the youth and education building remained. The cause of the fire has not been determined and though arson may not be the cause, it has not been ruled out as a possibility, creating a potential connection between it and a string of 2010 suspicious church fires in East Texas.
The emotional shock that struck Pastor Wes Johnson immediately was powerful. “I was hit with a sense of helplessness, but a lot of friends circled around me, a couple pastors came in and director of missions. It was a very emotional day. I still get emotional when I talk about it.”
That shock has shifted to rebuilding. A local Methodist church bought 150 Baptist hymnals for First Baptist Church. The congregation worked out an arrangement where it could meet in the Kerens Ex-Students Association building for worship. The Baptist General Convention of Texas provided some financial relief, and its Architectural Team continues providing guidance.
The fire has allowed the congregation to step back and re-examine how it uses its facilities and plan buildings that better fit those ministries, Johnson said. The fire destroyed buildings, but not the congregation because it is a group of people, Johnson said. The congregation is now charting a course for its future ministry.
“My role since October in one essence is to increase my role as an encourager and an uplifter to let them know this is not the end of things but a new start and new beginning as God leads us,” Johnson said.
Through its Architectural Team, Texas Baptists staff members have helped guide the congregation through assessing the way it wants to use space for ministry, called ministry-based planning. Staff members recently have completed concept drawing plans for how First Baptist Church’s proposed future facilities can function. They also address how to work with architects, engineers and builders.
“BGCT has helped us in a major way in several areas,” Johnson said.
Keith Crouch, director of Texas Baptists’ Architecture Team, said the fire has given First Baptist Church a chance to pray through a vision for its future. Because of the prayer-bathed process of planning, the congregation is beginning to see what the future may hold. It may be in a new building within the year.
“It really is an opportunity,” he said. “Most churches that experienced a disaster event come out better on the other side, believe it or not.”
That future has already begun, Johnson said, as the congregation rebuilds for the “glory of God.” As members have gone through the process of dealing with the loss of the buildings and looking to the future, opportunities have arisen. Some people have become more open to hearing what members have to share. Some people in the community are more willing to hear and contemplate the gospel.
“Amazingly to me this has opened some doors of witness that weren’t open before,” Johnson said.