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New foundation for the future
Members of Lawrence Baptist Church mourn loss of building but realize blessing
SCOTT BRYANT/staff After attending a youth weekday program, children play in front of the newly rebuilt Lawrence Baptist Church.

    When flames engulfed 97-year-old Lawrence Baptist Church in July of last year, many onlookers felt as if a part of their own lives had been burned away. Most of the old church was constructed of highly flammable pine, and after lightning struck its steeple, there was very little anyone could do to stop the blaze. While firefighters protected the nearby Fellowship Hall and Youth Building, members of the congregation looked on with horror and sadness as the sanctuary burned to the ground.
    “It was like losing a part of yourself,” said Johnnie Joyner, who has attended Lawrence Baptist Church for 44 years. “We thought our world had come tumbling down.”
    A rural church with a tight-knit congregation, Lawrence Baptist has served several families for generations. The old building had become a fixture in the lives of many members, for whom watching it be destroyed was heartbreaking.
    “Something that we took for granted was gone. It still hurts when I think about it,” said Joyner.
    In addition to leveling the sanctuary, the fire damaged the church’s Fellowship Hall beyond repair, forcing the church to hold services in its Youth Building. This left the congregation with no place to teach Sunday school and very little room for social functions. But despite these hardships, the church persevered in the aftermath of the fire. Albert Hodges, Lawrence Baptist’s preacher of 14 years,  immediately began thinking about rebuilding.
    “My reaction to the fire was of course sad. The building was a part of life for many people for a long time,” said Hodges. “At the same time, I knew that it was just a building, and that it could be replaced. I knew the Lord would take care of it.”
    With the help of Pearce Building and Ellis Wood Construction, the remains of the old church were cleared away and a new plan was selected. Construction went quickly and in a few months, the new building was ready for service.
    “It was really a smooth transition from one building to another,” said Hodges.
    Thanks to solid insurance and generous donations, the congregation was able to enter their bigger and more modern church completely debt free.  The new church features a much larger sanctuary and an extra Sunday school classroom, increasing the congregation’s space by about 1500 square feet. While the flames of last summer are unforgettable, the congregation is beginning to last summer’s disaster in a different light.
    “Everybody’s excited about being in the new building, which is better in a lot of ways than the old one,” said Hodges, “It’s really turned into a blessing.”
    Hodges hopes that the new building will allow Lawrence Baptist “to continue to grow and to reach the community.” For a congregation that has survived destruction and flames, the future holds many possibilities. 

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