Bible Found Among Rubble Inspires Congregation of Burned Knoxville Church

By: Stacy McCloud
By: Stacy McCloud

Knoxville (WVLT) - Knoxville Fire investigators say Wednesday night's fire at the Tennessee Avenue Baptist Church is accidental.

Investigators say the cause is electrical.

Earlier today, bulldozers took down one of the church's walls.

The sanctuary and front of the church is totally destroyed, but fire walls around the baptismal at the back of the church kept the blaze from spreading to the fellowship hall building.

About a dozen regular members attend services.

Investigator Danny Beeler says folks inside the building smelled smoke before the service and are not sure how long it had been burning.

"Our job now is to determined where it started. We know that it started in the space above the drop ceiling in the original ceiling but where up there we just don't know yet."

Beeler says they're looking at two different areas to determine where exactly the fire started.

Meanwhile, church members say sunday services will take place even if its in the church's parking lot.

"A lot of memories went up in smoke there"

A sanctuary that once welcomed all, is now blocked off with yellow tape.

Investigators search for reasons why the fire started from inside, while members past and present stand from behind, staring in disbelief at a scene that's simply heartbreaking.

"That third pew," former member Jack McClain says with a tear in his eye, "that pew was my families pew"

Charred remains, but clear memories, that go back generations for Jack McClain.

"I was baptized here in that corner right there. My wife was baptized here. When my son was 9 he accepted the Lord here and was baptized here."

Same story for Julia Mayes. this is where she's worshiped her entire life.

So to see the doors her great-grandparents once walked through 77 years ago, now only a blackened frame, is almost too much to handle.

"It's really hard," Mayes tells us.

But within the piles of crumpled brick, the spirit of this small church body remains.

Be it a shadow of a cross cast down on a caved-in roof, or a piano and a few pews destroyed, but still standing.

Within every ash, parishioners see signs of hope.

Amongst the greatest, a Bible, left mostly intact.

Interim Pastor Johnny Gray, "Only God's word can endure a fire like this and be left like this."

To them, it's proof God's word withstands and much more than irony that scripture will now permanently be turned to the book of Job.

"Job lost everything," Gray continues. "He lost his family, his farm, his cattle, his children."

A reminder for them to do just as Job and keep faith, even though everything around them, has caved in.

"It could be in days to come, but we're going to rejoice. God's grace is sufficient. He is going to strengthen us and we're going on."

Stacy McCloud WVLT Volunteer TV News.

Volunteer TV's Kelli Parker filed this report:

Knoxville (WVLT) - The congregation of a 77-year-old church in the Lonsdale community is coming together after their sanctuary is destroyed by fire.

The church went up in flames around seven o'clock last night.

About a dozen people were inside the Tennessee Avenue Baptist Church, when members noticed smoke coming from the roof.

Everyone was able to get out of the church safely, only to stand by and watch as it burned.

The sanctuary and front of the church are totally destroyed, but thanks to fire walls, the back building, which houses the fellowship hall, only has smoke and water damage.

Fire investigators spent the morning securing an unstable wall with hook poles.

A backhoe is expected to come in and tear down that wall within the hour, so it will be safe for firefighters to continue their investigation.

But right now officials say they are confident no foul play was involved

Only about a dozen people still gather to worship on a regular basis at Tennessee Avenue Baptist Church.

Those members, as well as many who once attended and grew up in the 77 year old building, stopped by all morning to offer support, pray and start the cleaning process.

While everything in the sanctuary is charred, some items are still standing.

Items that once made the church alive, even destroyed, bring back many happy memories.

"I see life, I see us singing in the choir, the beautiful picture in the baptistery that looked like the Jordan River and my dad playing the smoke out of the piano," 32 year member Julia Mayes told us.

Parishioners say that they will have service on Sunday.

If not in the fellowship hall, then right in the parking lot.

Wednesday Night Story:

We know Wednesday is a big church night in East Tennessee but this Wednesday night, some heartfelt prayers are going out to members of a Lonsdale Church, after it's destroyed by fire.

The 77-year-old Tennessee Avenue Baptist Church after the roof of their sanctuary caught fire around 7p.m. They had just finished services when members noticed smoke coming from the roof. About a dozen people were inside the church at the time and all of them were able to get out safely. The church is a total loss.
Right now, at this point, fire officials aren't sure of the cause.

As the flames roared through the sanctuary roof, members could only watch and pray from the sidewalk. For some, this 77-year-old church has been a sanctuary of peace for decades, now a charred mess.

There is little left at the Tennessee Avenue Baptist Church after the fire leaves behind ashes and broken hearts for church members and the pastor, many of whom have spent there whole lives in these church pews, with this church family. The good news is no one was injured here, but the flames and images these folks saw before them tonight may take years to get over.

These church members bow their heads and pray on this Wednesday night outside their sanctuary flooded with firefighters, hoses, and flames shooting into the sky.

"We've been praying for god to do something with our church," interim pastor Johnny Gray said.

But interim pastor Johnny Gray says they never thought it would be this. Just after 7:00 on Wednesday night, a church member noticed smoke coming from the choir loft.

"We realized the church was on fire gathered everyone else to get out of the building," church member Denny Sereano said.

Seconds later, a 911 call is made, and firefighters arrived two minuets later.

"It was already coming from the roof. They knew right away after they got inside they had to back out because it was strictly defensive," Knoxville Fire Captain Darrell Whitaker said.

As the walls of the old 77-year-old wooden church began to crumble, firefighters became concerned for the homes on either side of the church..

"Both houses on either side of church did cause the siding to melt," Whitaker said.

The flames melting away a lifetime of memories for some.

"It has been a building that has served the people for many years. The Lord has really blessed us," Gray said.

"For those dozen or so that are still here this is their life," Sereano said.

And for member Fred Braden, the bond is more than 50 years.

"It's part of my life," Braden said.

"It's like losing a child it's devastating," Sereano said.

Church members now say they wait for God's guidance, and with broken hearts also comes their unshaken faith. Through tears, they declare the show for God must go on.

"We're gonna have church here in the parking lot Sunday," Braden said.


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