Revised on: 08.3.2018 at 11:15 a.m.
Posted on: 07.24.2018 at 12:30 p.m.
By Allen Turner
More than 300 people came to worship Sunday at Cherry Grove Baptist Church, as the church’s new sanctuary was dedicated two years and one week after fire from a lightning strike destroyed the structure.
The congregation included first responders from the tragedy of two years ago, builders who helped in the recovery effort, visitors from other churches, politicians and members of the news media, but most of those who came were members of the large fellowship of Cherry Grove Baptist Church.
Sunday’s proceedings were dubbed a “Dedication/Celebration Worship Service.”
The “old” sanctuary replaced a 1948 structure that had been in use for only four years when it burned. Cherry Grove is one of the oldest churches in Columbus County, and has operated continuously since 1810. In 1861 it moved into a new building, which served as the church’s physical headquarters until the 1948 brick structure was built.
Between insurance proceeds and generous donations from members of the congregation, area churches and total strangers, the church was able to dedicate its new sanctuary Sunday without having to incur a mortgage.
After what the insurance companies called an “act of God” destroyed the sanctuary two years ago, the pastor, the Rev. Rusty Davis, chose Acts 2:42 as the scriptural basis for Sunday morning’s message: “And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers.”
“With the early church as an example,” Rev. Davis asked congregants, “how should we operate going forward?”
Answering his own question, he said, “We will be a church that is committed to teaching and receiving the rightly divided word of truth. We will be a church that is committed to each other. We will be a church that is committed to being obedient to the word of God. And we will be a church that is committed to prayer.”
Among people in attendance were representatives of 240 first responders from the 29 fire departments from five counties who fought the fire, led by Fair Bluff Fire and Rescue. Also attending were members of other area churches, including the Rev. Dave Heller, director of the Columbus Baptist Association; contractors and subcontractors who had a hand in rebuilding the facility; and Rep. Brenden Jones, R-Columbus, and Sen. Danny Britt, R-Robeson. Jones presented the church with a State of North Carolina flag that had been flown over the N.C. House of Representatives.
Following the service, attendees enjoyed a catered lunch in the Christian Fellowship Center. The church fellowship hall was used for all activities of the church, including worship services, since the fire, going full steam ahead without any curtailment of programs.
After the blaze, response — not only from church members but also from other faith groups from throughout the area and several surrounding states — was tremendous, according to Dan Strickland, chairman of the church sanctuary building committee.
The new sanctuary was built largely using plans, with a few modifications and improvements, for the four-year-old church that burned. Several classrooms destroyed in the fire also were replaced.
Relics from the fire are on permanent display in a glass case in a hallway behind the sanctuary and include a charred cross and singed Bibles that somehow escaped total destruction in the blaze.
Rev. Davis singled out and brought to the front of the sanctuary for recognition the 10 members of the sanctuary building committee who spearheaded reconstruction of the church. Committee members include Strickland, the chairman, Bill Enzor (committee vice chairman and chairman of the church board of deacons), Phyllis Coleman, B.J. Edge, Sonnie Graham, Shirley Hendrix, Ron Herring, Debbie Lovett, Allen Strickland and Rev. Davis (ex officio).
Church member Graham’s S&G Builders was the general contractor for the new facility. Wilson Farm Nursery did the landscaping and Larry Hewitt was responsible for the church rendering design.