TAYLORS, S.C. (BP) – The sanctuary of Camp Creek Baptist Church is gone — now only a charred shell. A lightning bolt likely ignited the blaze that gutted the building on Sunday, July 2.
But “the church is the people,” interim pastor Joe Hayes Jr. maintains, and the spirit of Camp Creek’s members remains undaunted. They will continue to worship on the northern Greenville County site where the congregation has met since 1885.
“It’s totally devastating,” Hayes told The Courier. “But as sad as it is, I’m telling the people that God’s not through with the church, and we’re going to pull together and get through this.”
A former member of North Greenville University’s faculty, Hayes lives about four miles from the church. He learned about the fire from an upset church member’s call about 10 p.m. By the time he arrived 15 minutes later, the sanctuary, which was built in 1946, was engulfed in flames.
“There was a terrible electrical storm that came through here Sunday evening,” Hayes said. Sheriff’s department investigators believe an amateur photographer may have even captured the suspected lightning bolt, he said. A few seconds afterward, flames were seen coming out of the roof, which later collapsed.
Investigators found a hole, near where the pulpit had stood, that went down to the basement. It is believed the bolt might have struck there, he added.
Six area fire departments responded to the blaze, but “it didn’t take long for the building to burn up completely,” Hayes said. While the church’s records and recordings of past sermons were lost, the church bell — which crashed to the ground when the steeple fell — was saved by firefighters and some concerned onlookers.
“It’s heartbreaking,” he added, “but the people have really rallied.” Church members began preparing for services in the fellowship hall, which sits about 50 yards behind the sanctuary and was not damaged. A keyboard has been donated since the baby grand piano and organ were destroyed, and a music minister from a neighboring church, Blue Ridge Baptist, brought hymnals.
Martha Waters, one of the longtime members of Camp Creek, said seeing the burnt sanctuary “wasn’t easy” because of so many fond memories. “I was about 12 years old when they built it, and I went to church there ever since,” she said. “It was really hard to lose it,” she said, “but we know God will help us … and we’ll build another one because He’s not through with us yet.”