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Emit Grove Baptist Church looks to future
Congregation counts their blessings as new church rises from ashes
Emit Grove Baptist Church Pastor Tim Huffingham leads members of the church in breaking ground on the future site of their new church Monday, April 30, 2007. On Tuesday, November 28, 2006, Emit Grove Baptist Church was severely damaged by a fire in the early hours of the morning. The congregation currently is watching the foundation of their future church take shape where the previous structure sat. - photo by Eleanor Wise/special

    In the early hours of Tuesday, November 28, 2006, Emit Grove Baptist Church was dealt a hard blow —– their beloved 114-year-old building was severely damaged by fire.
    The sanctuary was a complete loss. All that remained where pews once stood were burnt timbers that had once supported the floor of the church. Charred Bibles and darkened bricks littered the ground. The area directly behind the sanctuary that was used for classrooms and offices remained upright but suffered serious fire and smoke damage. The building was a complete loss.    

    In the six months since the fire that was ruled an arson, great strides have been made in construction of a new home for the congregation. A ground- breaking ceremony was held on Monday, April 30, 2007.
    “It was a really special service,” Emit Grove Baptist Church Pastor Tim Huffingham said. “It was one of those thing where God’s presence really took over.”
    To begin the service, members of the congregation grabbed their shovels and formed a circle around the future site of the new church.
    They didn’t break ground right away though.
    “Before the service, I measured to determine where the pulpit of the new church would be located,” Huffingham said. “When I felt I had a measurement that was accurate, I dug a hole.”
    As the congregation watched, their pastor of 5 1/2 years revealed the items he had brought to deposit at the site. With him he had mustard seeds, a burned brick, a charred Bible and oil.
    Each item was symbolic.
    The mustard seeds represented faith, Huffingham said. The burned brick serves as a reminder of all who paved the way for future generations at Emit Grove; the charred piece of Bible contained the words of 2 Timothy 4: 2-4 (“Preach the word ...”); and the oil represented the spirit of God, Huffingham said.
    “It was very moving,” Huffingham said.
    These items were covered with dirt and are now part of the foundation, the pastor said.
    To complete the groundbreaking, each member in attendance took their shovel and turned over a shovel-full of dirt.
    “It was kind of strange. The pastor we had invited to speak, Daryel O’Barr, he stood up and said, ‘I don’t think there’s anything that I could say to add to this.’ I thought he was kidding at first, it’s not like a preacher to not have anything to say.”
    O’Barr felt that anything he said would detract from the service, Huffingham said.
Loss of a landmark,
a home
    The fire left a congregation of about 160 without a home.
    “The initial feeling was shock, then there was a feeling of great loss,” said Huffingham.
    The loss was different for everyone, he explained.
    “Some of our members have attended here most of their lives,” Huffingham said. “They grew up in this church, were married in this church, watched their children grow up in this church. The place where their memories were made is gone.”
    Floyd Waters, a church member for 23 years and a deacon, remembers when he received the call about the fire.
    “Initially, there was a great feeling of shock,” Waters said. “Then I felt a great sadness and uncertainty — uncertainty about the church’s future.”   
A revelation in the face
of devastation
    Before the flames that took the aging structure were extinguished, members of Emit Grove Baptist Church were beginning to count their blessings.
    The morning of the fire, word of the tragedy spread quickly among church members. Before the sun came up, dozens of members gathered to watch the flames lick at the walls of their old church.
    As firefighters worked to suppress the flames, those that gathered to mourn the loss of the building met in their new Family Life Center to pray, Huffingham said.
    While inside, the group was struck with a revelation.
    “God’s timing is impeccable.”
    The Family Life Center was completed only three months prior to the fire.
    “Without it, we would have had to meet off site,” Huffingham said. “This building has been such a blessing. We have yet to miss a service because of the fire.”
    Also, about a year before the fire, the church had increased their insurance coverage.    
    “The replacement policy has been a great deal of help in funding the construction of the new building,” Huffingham said.
Caring community
    When someone in this community needs help, all they have to do is ask — or wait — and help will be on the way. At least, that has been Emit Grove’s experience.
    There have been monetary contributions to the church from many different organizations and individuals, in small and large amounts, the pastor said.
    “We’ve also been offered so many of some things that we’ve had to say ‘no thank-you’. You sure hate to do that when people are trying to help.”
    The church has turned down a number of pianos and organs, for example.
    Huffingham also credits their progress thus far to their commercial contractor, James Pearce.
    “I don’t know what we would have done without him, he said. “He’s put a lot of time into this project to make sure it is done right. In fact, he has helped a lot of local churches. He’s a good man.”
    Currently all services are being held in the Family Life Center.
    The structure is appreciated, but there are a few difficulties.
    The acoustics aren’t great and more Sunday School classrooms are needed, Huffingham said.
    The foundation of the new church has been started but the pastor is unsure of a completion date. One thing is certain — the new facility will be larger than the old.
    “The sanctuary will be able to accommodate 450 people,” Huffingham said. “We will aim to fill those seats.”
    The people that return weekly to the Family Life Center still feel the loss of their church, but are beginning to look to the future.
    “There was a tremendous hurt about the old building,” Huffingham said. But he feels that anticipation about the completion of the new church is building.
    “We want this church to fill modern and spiritual needs,” he said. “We want it to be our gift to the community.”
    For more information about Emit Grove Baptist Church, call the church at (912) 839-3722.

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