That is what kept running through the mind of Pastor Mike Smith as he watched his church, Fincastle Church of God, burn early Sunday morning.
Smith thought of the weddings, baptisms, funerals and church functions he had presided over in the sanctuary now engulfed in flames.
As crews managed to get leverage over the blaze that would eventually destroy the church, Smith said they called him over to them.
“They had found a hymnal. It was open to ‘Precious Memories’,” Smith said. It was a poignant moment for him.
The firefighters had also found a Bible. It was open to the third chapter of Ecclesiastes. There in a water soaked charred Bible Smith found more words of comfort in the third verse. “Atime to break down and a time to build up,” Smith said for him that was confirmation the church would rebuild its sanctuary one day.
With the Christmas season underway, Fincastle Church of God had been busy with holiday preparations. The building and sanctuary had been decorated with greenery, garland and red bows. The women of the church had spent Saturday preparing food for the next day’s Christmas dinner.
It was to be a Sunday of celebration.
However, all of that changed around 3 a.m.
That is when Campbell County Sheriff’s Deputy Jeremy Goins noticed smoke coming from the church.
An alert church member heard Goins’ call for the fire departments go out across the police scanner. That is when Smith got his first call about the fire.
“Don Powell called me and said ‘I believe the church is on fire’,” Smith said.
In the time it took Smith to travel the short distance from his home to the Old Middlesboro Road location the situation changed dramatically.
“They told me there was just smoke and then all at once it sounded like a bomb went off,” Smith said.
The burst of flames blew the back doors off the church and shot flames into the air. Smith said he saw the blaze well before he reached the church.
“At one point the flames were 50 feet above the roof line,” said Campbell County Rural Fire Service Assistant Chief Daniel Lawson.
CCRS crews were at the church within 10 minutes of being dispatched.
Lawson said a quick evaluation of the situation led him to put the crews in a defensive mode. Noting the size of the blaze and the potential for a roof collapse Lawson said it was just too dangerous to send crews in.
Lawson made the correct decision. The metal roof would later collapse sending the main floor of the church into the basement.
With crews from across the county on hand to help battle the blaze, a truck brigade was started. Emptying tanker truck after tanker truck, firefighters made the trek to area hydrants bringing back water to fight the blaze. They also had another mission.
The fellowship hall of the church sits within yards of the main church building.
“I asked him (Lawson) to try and save the fellowship hall,” Smith said.
With multiple crews from across the county assisting, Lawson said they were able to do that.
“We had an extra water line on it. We were able to keep the building cooled down,” Lawson said.
As the darkness gave way to light on Sunday morning the firefighters continued their work. And instead of attending a worship the congregants gave thanks in another way. They began taking care of the crews who had been onsite at least five hours by that time.
“We fed them with the food we had ready for our Christmas dinner,” Smith said.
“It was amazing,” said Lawson. “For them to be dealing with the loss of their church and they were taking care of us. They lost their church but fed us and thanked us for the hard work.”
Fire crews remained at the church around nine hours. Once the initial blaze was under CONTROL , the teams had to remove the pieces of tin that had collapsed to ensure no fires were burning beneath them.
“I can’t say enough or thank the firemen enough,” Smith said of the work he saw on Sunday morning.
As Smith and his congregation have begun to process their loss, area churches have opened their doors and hearts to them.
Cash donations, invitations to Christmas dinners and offers to use their sanctuaries have poured in from across from the community. That makes Smith emotional. He finds the support from not just the religious community in Campbell County but from across the region “overwhelming.”
Until the area around the church is cleaned up Fincastle Church of God will hold services at the Christian Academy of Campbell County.
The origin of the fire is still under investigation by the CCSD along with Tennessee Bomb and Arson Squad, said Sheriff Robbie Goins.