Faith Unites Hagood Avenue Baptist in Crisis

Firefighters battle fire at Hagood Avenue Baptist Church. (Jonathan Vickery / Publisher / The People-Sentinel)

A fire that consumed Hagood Avenue Baptist Church in Barnwell has left its congregation devastated, but amid the ashes, they still have hope.

The fire, ignited by a lightning strike to the steeple around noon on Friday, raged until the early hours of Saturday morning before firefighters were able to control it. As soon as word spread of the fire, church members mobilized in support of the firefighters. They took to social media, asking for water and other essentials for the firefighters battling the blaze. The community rallied around the cause, bringing supplies, tents, and even free food from local restaurants.

Members gather around to pray for their pastors and leaders the day after the fire. (Jonathan Vickery / Publisher / The People-Sentinel)

Gathering in Support

Saturday evening, the church mobilized to hold a prayer and worship gathering. A local church offered a sound system, so members gathered on the lawn to have a time of prayer and share words of encouragement. “It was a really encouraging time for folks to come and show support and to worship together,” pastor Brandon Sandifer said.

Sandifer said that his phone has been steadily ringing with people wanting to know how they can help. Churches in their community, pastors from across the US, and even pastors they know internationally were reaching out, offering resources and prayer. “The main encouragement has been how many people are praying for us and care enough to reach out. That has really helped hold us up,” Sandifer said.

Hagood members gather for Sunday services in a borrowed facility just two days after the fire. (Photo Courtesy: Anthony Perry)

Meeting after Tragedy

Knowing the church needed to gather despite the tragedy, Hagood Avenue staff held Sunday’s services at The Merge, a building offered as a temporary gathering place by First Baptist Church Barnwell. “FBC Barnwell and other local churches have bent over backward to welcome us and help us along,” Sandifer said. Although grieved over the loss, the fire made it even more clear that “this is just a building. The church is the people,” he said.

As Sandifer prepared a sermon to encourage a grieving congregation, the Lord led him to Hebrews 13:8, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever,” as an anchor to hold onto. “Even though we lost everything in terms of material things, my prayer is that we display Jesus as our treasure,” Sandifer said. “All we need is His Word, the Spirit, and His people, and so we have all we need.”

Church members and community gather to worship and pray on church grounds the day after the fire. (Jonathan Vickery / Publisher / The People-Sentinel)

Hope Amid Sorrow

Although there are many decisions to be made in the upcoming weeks, the church remains strong. Wednesday night services were held at homes across the community. “It felt like returning to the early church, just being in homes and encouraging each other,” Sandifer said.

He said that SCBaptists can join them in praying for God to give their leaders wisdom and that leaders and the church would be unified as they navigate the difficult decisions ahead. “Hopefully, we look back and see that God used this to make us an even healthier church,” Sandifer said. “Even in the midst of sorrow, we have great hope.”

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