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Brevard County residents weather storm in church building

MELBOURNE, Fla. (BP)–While most people evacuated the barrier island, Cocoa Beach resident Dave Guise decided to ride out Hurricane Frances’ onslaught of wind inside First Baptist Church of Cocoa Beach, thinking he could help protect the structure in the event of fire or other danger, the church member said.

Guise spent most of the night crouched in a hallway at the bottom of the stairs leading to the sanctuary. At 1 a.m. as the massive building creaked and groaned under the relentless winds, a thunderous crash drew the man to the church sanctuary, where the massive steeple broke off from its foundation and plunged through the roof to rest on the church’s balcony.

Two days after the storm, the weary veteran admitted, “It was very scary. I don’t think I will ever do that again. I’d think I’d rather fight a war than to have to endure that.”

The beckoning Cocoa Beach steeple is a landmark in the Beach community, said church deacon Don Johnson. Pilots from nearby Patrick Air Force Base are said to line up for the runway using the steeple as a navigational tool. So much so, he said, that base officials once offered to repair the bell tower light when it once burnt out.

Three dozen members from First Baptist Church of Melbourne survived Frances’ seemingly endless march through their community by barricading themselves in the four-year old concrete block building, beginning about 1 p.m. on Friday. They joined members of the church’s Haitian mission and everyone shared food they had brought–shrimp, scallops, linguine and clams were part of the delicious fare, said Pastor Larry Bazer.

When the storm ended and the church escaped unscathed except for the loss of power, the congregation gathered for what the pastor called a “catacomb service,” much like the early New Testament church, reported church member Billie Norczyk.

The congregation’s First Century Christian mindset continued even as the community sought restoration after the storm. When the church got back their electrical power on Labor Day, the congregation housed displaced families from the community as well as members whose homes had no power.

By and large, Bazer reported, church members and the community as a whole sustained little damage from the storm, torn roofs and uprooted and fallen trees.

Bazer and other church members spent Labor Day going throughout the community, using chainsaws to remove fallen limbs and trees and patching roofs.

The church served as operations site for the North Carolina Baptist Feeding Unit, one of 14 Southern Baptist mobile feeding kitchens expected to line the 1-95 corridor to provide hot meals and relief in the aftermath of the hurricane.

The North Carolina team includes three mobile feeding kitchens, three shower units, three recovery teams, a water purifier and laundry, said leader Steve Stancil, a volunteer from Wilson, N.C. Two of the feeding units remain at First Baptist and a third will be positioned at King Street Baptist Church in Cocoa.

On Labor Day, Florida Baptists’ three mobile feeding units were expected to be positioned in Stuart, having completed a three-week assignment in North Port after Hurricane Charley.

Three Kentucky Baptist feeding units were expected to arrive this week in Port Charlotte and Wauchula to continue feeding Hurricane Charley victims and relief workers.

    About the Author

  • Barbara Denman

    Barbara Denman is communications editor for the Florida Baptist Convention. BP reports on missions, ministry and witness advanced through the Cooperative Program and on news related to Southern Baptists’ concerns nationally and globally.

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