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Ten months after fire, South Carolina church breaks ground for new building

Members of the community gather Nov. 14 at the groundbreaking services for Cowpens First Baptist Church's new building.

COWPENS, S.C. (BP) – Church leaders said the groundbreaking for Cowpens First Baptist Church on Sunday represented a continuation, not beginning, of community ministry since a fire claimed its building in December.

Kermit Morris, who accepted the title of intentional interim pastor at the church in September 2020, joined others after worship services Nov. 14 to commemorate the first steps for a building that will feature many improvements over the one that burned just after Christmas last year.

“It’s going to blend some of the old with the new,” he said. “The exterior will look traditional, but inside it’ll be more contemporary.”

Chairs will replace pews used in the old building. Technological improvements include more efficient wiring and lighting advances to keep up with the church’s burgeoning media ministry. Another much-needed addition is a drive-thru, drop-off area outside.

Completion of the new building is expected to take 12-18 months.

The growth First Baptist experienced since Morris’ arrival has held steady even after the fire, as attendance has more than doubled from approximately 60 each week to around 130. Attendance at the groundbreaking leveled out at 140, he said.

Two of those new members are Cowpens Fire Chief Tony Blanton and his wife, Candice. The couple began attending early this year after the fire and have continued to become more involved.

The actions of Blanton and his crew helped preserve a temporary meeting spot for First Baptist. Not long after arriving on the scene in December, Morris asked if the family life center had been spared. The building wasn’t on fire, but firefighters’ response to Morris’ inquiry with a steady application of water almost certainly limited the impact to minor smoke damage.

For a month after the church building’s destruction, First Baptist met in the fine arts building of Broome High School while the family life center was prepared as a temporary worship space.

“Even though we haven’t had a building, the worship has continued. The outreach has continued,” Larry Lawson, worship pastor, told a local news station covering the event. “But we’ve also sensed the community coming behind us and loving us and supporting us as well, and that’s one thing we have much gratitude for.”

Dignitaries including the mayor, town manager, and Blanton in his role as fire chief spoke at the groundbreaking.

After the fire, Morris received the question, “What are you going to do, since your church is gone?”

“Our church is not gone; the building is gone,” he responded. “The people are the church.

“We’ve seen people visit our church since then and the fact that we get a new building in the next year or so does not change the fact that God has called us to continue to reach this community.”