“The church is on fire.” That was the heartbreaking news delivered to Chuck Weaver, pastor of Pleasant Hill Baptist Church in Hale County. The church is located less than 10 miles south of Moundville in the rural area of the county. Recently Pleasant Hill has been growing in attendance under the loving leadership of their devoted pastor. At one time, the attendance was as low as 15, but not now. On Sunday morning for worship, more than 50 people gather together to praise God and hear the Gospel preached. That has been the pattern for this close-knit congregation at Pleasant Hill.
During the night of April 14 or the early morning hours of the 15th, the church caught on fire and was functionally destroyed as a facility for worship and Bible study. I was in Cleburne County when I heard the bad news. Mel Johnson, our state missionary assigned to leadership in disaster relief, immediately went to the scene on Wednesday. He assessed the situation appropriately, and we began making arrangements to have a new mobile chapel on site for the church to use by the first Sunday in May. By the way, this is their homecoming Sunday.
Thursday, Bill Wallace, the director of missions for Hale County Association, and I came to visit the Pleasant Hill church. I carried with me a check from disaster relief funds, made possible by the generous giving of Alabama Baptists. I was able to talk briefly with two church members, a deacon and a lady who serves the church as treasurer. To both of them, I offered the cooperative support of Alabama Baptists as they look to the future. Sunday, Bill Wallace will be present for their worship services to personally give the disaster relief check to the pastor and the church family.
While at the site of the fire on Thursday, two television news teams were present to take video pictures and to have interviews. One was from nearby Tuscaloosa, a small local coverage station for that area. ABC 33/40, perhaps, the largest television news outlet in the state, was also represented. In both of the brief news interviews with me, I was able to describe how Alabama Baptists work together when natural or man-caused disasters take place. The two interviewers were young but experienced, and both of them seemed to be impressed and grateful that people care about others in a time of need. It was an opportunity to share the love of Christ in a time of crisis.
As I stood there and viewed the burned out hull of what once was the picturesque church worship center and Bible study rooms, my mind raced back to three years ago, when we had the rash of nine or 10 church fires in our state. I remembered seeing the distraught faces of those who look upon the grisly sight of their church buildings in utter ashes and rubble.
I remembered the fire in Chilton County 15 months ago, where the pastor guided me through the remains of their educational building. He sadly showed me where he had his office, and then he rummaged through the few charred books, which were salvaged from the fire. There was a yellow sticky note attached to one of the burn edged books, which read “no matter what.”
In the days to come, that “no matter what” spirit became his contagious leadership style. That church has bounced back and is continuing to minister for the Lord. The other churches have recovered too. Our mobile chapels have been used as places of worship and Bible study during this painful period of rebuilding and restoring for a good number of these churches. This has assisted them in incalculable ways, mainly giving them a place of worship until a new facility can be built.
There are two ways a church can be on fire. One is tragic, a literal fire, where facilities become shambles and congregations are caught in some very tough circumstances, dealing with the aftermath. The church can also be on fire spiritually. When the church becomes focused or refocused on the mission of the Great Commission, the fire of the Holy Spirit of God becomes the wind, which carries them into the future. Rare as it may be, the church can be on fire literally and spiritually. The literal fire has burned down the building at Pleasant Hill, but the spiritual fire of God’s Holy Spirit is leading this growing church into an even brighter future. As an Alabama Baptist, you are a vital part of that future!!!