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Fire destroys half of church, worship resumes next day

[SLIDESHOW=46734,46735]HARRISON, Ark. (BP) — One day after fire destroyed nearly half of Eagle Heights Baptist Church in Harrison, Ark., senior pastor Kennith Stacy held services in the congregation’s family life center.

“In the midst of the tragedy that we find on our campus, we can still see that there’s joy because God’s presence hasn’t left,” Stacy told the congregation Dec. 9 in a Facebook post. “We are the body of Christ, and it’s not a building, but it is people. And so tomorrow morning we’re going to gather together as a church because that’s what we know to do.”

A 17-year-old motorist caused the fire around 4:40 a.m., police said, when he crashed his truck into a utility pole, sparking a transformer fire that quickly spread to the church, the Harrison Daily Times reported. Police said the driver was intoxicated, likely on drugs. The driver was bleeding from the face when arrested, a witness told the Daily Times, but no other injuries were reported.

The fire destroyed the church’s original sanctuary and basement built in 1949 that most recently was used as the youth center, according to news reports. The loss of the historic portion of the church, about 40 percent of the campus, will be difficult to process, student pastor Scott Dehart told KY3-TV in Springfield, Mo.

“This is where [the youth] make their memories, memories that last through college and their lifetime,” Dehart told KY3. “The memories that took place inside this building, many of them have come to know Christ in this building, many of them were baptized in this building. A lot of people were telling stories about how their parents had been married in the church.”

Police arrested the motorist on suspicion of careless driving with an accident, DWI, refusal to submit to a chemical test, leaving the scene of an accident with property damage and criminal mischief, the Daily Times reported. Police believe the accident was the driver’s second collision of the morning, that he had hit a trailer and continued to drive before crashing into the utility pole, Police Chief Paul Woodruff told the Daily Times.

The church cancelled Sunday School that morning, but held worship services at 10:30 a.m. and 5 p.m. The church’s average Sunday attendance is about 285, according to Southern Baptist Convention statistics.

“We’re going to love on people and we’re certainly going to be available to hug and to cry with and to reminiscence and to reflect,” Stacy said on Facebook. “But more importantly, tomorrow is a day that we worship Jesus and this is the hope that we provide in this community.

“My friend Jesus is still king and we are still His people,” Stacy said. “Through the midst of this, God has got a plan and we’re going to follow Him faithfully in it.”