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Fire destroys 105-year-old Beaver County church, but parishioners see signs of hope

Natasha Lindstrom
| Saturday, Sept. 22, 2018, 11:09 a.m.
First Baptist Church in Midland
WPXI
First Baptist Church in Midland

One by one and in groups of loved ones, people stopped by First Baptist Church in Midland to see the charred rubble and mangled debris left behind by a massive fire that ripped through the 105-year-old Beaver County church early Saturday.

Observers were all were quick to point out a powerful sight: Though the church’s roof was gone and most of its insides gutted, the main cross that hung above the pulpit remained intact and almost untouched by fire damage, along with the purple drape behind it.

“I can only see rubble from here ... but the cross isn’t … the veil isn’t even burned,” remarked Mimi Wilson of Beaver Falls, a choir director at First Baptist Church.

“Yes — the curtain, it’s still there and that represents so much; beyond the veil is the presence of God,” said Lawrence Haynes, 35, of Beaver Falls, who’s helped with the church’s music ministry.

“That’s hope right there,” said Tara James, 55, of Midland, whose cousin is a pastor at the church and whose grandfather helped found it.

Melissa Perkins, who grew up five houses away from the church on Fifth Street, pointed out that in addition to the cross, “the pulpit and choir pit is not touched inside.”

“There’s definitely a message here,” said Perkins, 36, who now lives in Rochester. “God is always speaking to us, and I think this definitely is a time for us to come together and be unified. To work together to build it even better than what it has been for 105 years.”

Officials received a report of the fire at First Baptist Church in Midland around 12:30 a.m., according to Trib news partner WPXI-TV.

No one was injured.

Midland firefighters called in backup from several stations to put out the flames.

Officials evacuated houses adjacent to the church as a precaution but were able to keep the flames from spreading to other structures, WPXI reported.

Initial inspections indicate the fire may have started on the roof, a local fire official told WPXI.

The church had just celebrated its 105th anniversary with a community picnic last month. It last underwent a major renovation and expansion project about 15 years ago.

Its pastor, the Rev. Cordell Fountain, could not be reached for comment.

The pastor at another church down the street, Faith Temple Church of God in Christ, immediately offered to let First Baptist Church members use its facilities to host services on Sunday.

“This church has always been a pillar of the community,” said James.

Members and residents of the area said that First Baptist Church is known for its upbeat music as well as service — including a monthly paper product bank to help the needy obtain household goods they can’t buy on food stamps, such as toilet paper, paper towels and dish soap.

The state fire marshal is investigating the cause of the fire.

Crews inspected the site Saturday afternoon, with the marshal expected to arrive Sunday.

Along with the cross inside, the structure’s oldest stone facade and large, red arch door remained intact, as did most of the colorful stained glass windows and the church office next door.

Pieces of roof and gutters clung to scorched earth beneath yellow caution tape blocking off the area.

Community members are in the process of setting up local fundraisers to help with repair costs.

“The building, seeing this is hurtful — but the church is not a building, it’s the people,” Perkins said, “so I think it’s important that us as people come together, no matter what denomination, no matter what church you belong to, that we come together and heal, and do better than what we’ve been doing.”

Natasha Lindstrom is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Natasha at 412-380-8514, nlindstrom@tribweb.com or via Twitter @NewsNatasha.

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