GRIFFIN – The rumbling of thunder and flashes of lightning do not typically come in disastrous fury in late December, but it happened in 2012. In fact, lightning struck the worship center of New Salem Baptist Church in Spalding County on Dec. 26 and gutted the main sanctuary.
However, what has happened since the New Salem property was destroyed is even more newsworthy than the fire itself. At the time of the fire, Pastor Mike Barnes stated, “It’s a shame to go through this, but we just trust in the Lord. We know He’s got a plan, and we’re just going to follow his will.”
Prior to the damage of the New Salem property the church was growing and people were being saved on a regular basis. Barnes commented, “We had doubled in size since 2010, going from an average of 60 on Sunday morning to approximately 120. We has been praying about a way to expand our facility to accommodate the growth and had already contacted a few of our neighbors about purchasing adjoining property, but were not given that opportunity.”
The church was flourishing, but on the day after Christmas 2012 Barnes received a telephone call at 4:15 a.m. from Shirley Steele, a longtime member of the church, informing him that the church was on fire.
“It’s a shame to go through this, but we just trust in the Lord. We know He’s got a plan, and we’re just going to follow his will.”
Barnes arrived on the scene 15 minutes later and recalled, “I could see the flames rising above the trees from a long way off as I drove to the site. The heart pinewood out of which the old building was framed became the perfect fuel for the lightening strike.
“The fire spread quickly. The fire department was on the scene with a lot of trucks and firefighters, but it was evident that the church building was going to be a total loss. I began contacting my staff and lay leader as the church burned that morning and as everyone trickled in we stood in the graveyard out back. We prayed, cried, shared memories, and experienced just about every type of emotion you can imagine.”
Not destroyed, but strengthened
In the midst of the chaos New Salem did not miss an opportunity to minister. Kitty Fields, a faithful member of the church, assembled a crew to cook breakfast for all the people who gathered that morning including the firefighters.
Once the fire had been quenched some of the men in the church went into the smoldering remains and recovered the church’s fire-resistant filing cabinet from the office that contained the church’s Lottie Moon Christmas Offering. Most of the papers in the cabinet were destroyed, but God had preserved the entire offering.
Barnes noted, “We realized very quickly that the church had not been destroyed, but had been strengthened, because the church was the people and not the building. It was in that graveyard experience that our slogan was born – ‘The building may have burned down, but the church is on fire.’ An even greater unity and sense of purpose was growing within New Salem.
“We had our service the following Sunday at the Old School building we owned across the street, which had been occupied by Vaughn United Methodist Church. The day after our fire VUMC received their certificate of occupancy to move into their new building. Their old building had been destroyed by a tornado in 2011. The second Sunday we were in that old school house we baptized outside – that was the first Sunday of 2013.”
The church had insurance to cover the damage caused by the fire, but after intense negotiations still received $200,000 less than what the church expected to receive. When the fire occurred the church was already in need of additional space.
Barnes explained, “A longtime member of the church gave a portion of land approximately two miles away for us to construct a new church plant. Since we were moving we needed to build an entire facility. In the fire we lost approximately 12,000 square feet space. We have rebuilt approximately 25,000 square feet of worship and educational space.”
“We realized very quickly that the church had not been destroyed, but had been strengthened …”
Since the fire destroyed the building the church has not only maintained their ongoing ministries, but added new ones as well. Their Sunday School attendance has continued to grow. Additionally, the church has expanded its involvement in mission trips to the Appalachian areas of Kentucky and Tennessee.
Barnes explained, “We have more ministry going on now than ever before and have doubled in size since the fire. We will move into our new building with duel services and Sunday Schools so we have room to grow. God is good!
“We are preparing to plant some churches within the next few years. God has also blessed us with some young men answering the call to ministry and many leaders stepping up so we want to put them to work for the Kingdom.”
New Salem recently entered their new facility and have plenty of reason to praise the Lord.