After the ashes: Church community looks ahead to new life

NEWBERRY COUNTY, SC (WIS) - While investigators are still working to determine what caused a January fire at a historic church in Newberry County, the church community is looking ahead to new life.

Construction and demolition equipment surround St. Paul's Lutheran Church in Pomaria, a sign of progress for a community who's ready to rebuild.

"We started doing what we could do probably six weeks ago," said Pastor Brent Nichols, who's led the church for 22 years. "We had some asbestos in the sanctuary, and that's what [demolition crews] are doing right now- they're doing some clean-up of that. We could not do a lot until that is taken care of."

The St. Paul's sanctuary and education building were left in ashes on the morning on January 10th. "I was in, I guess just in a state of shock, a state of disbelief," said Pastor Nichols, recalling the fire. "Within minutes the grounds were just covered with church members and people from the community."

Pastor Nichols says since that day the community has opened its hearts and hands. They church has received more than $160,000 dollars in donations from locally and beyond. "It's been a very humbling experience just to see the outpouring of love that we have received," added Nichols.

He says while they still don't know how much it will cost to rebuild, he says the wall's that are standing will remain. "We can use the walls," said Nichols. "As I understand it, we can build a steel structure within the stone walls and keep those."

This Easter Sunday, the church will also keep tradition. "Every year we have a sunrise service on the front lawn and then we have our 11am inside, so it's just a combining of the services at 9am," said Nichols.

The church community has been gathering at an old school for the last 10 weeks, but this Easter Sunday will mark their first return to the church's front lawn since the Sunday after the fire.

"The service itself will not be different, but I am certain that the whole emotion of the day [will be]," said Nichols.

Emotion that Pastor Nichols says is full of hope when found in the Easter story. "When you look at the resurrection narratives… it was not merely a resuscitation of a dead body," said Nichols. "The resurrected Jesus was in a new and far more wonderful, an abundant life than what He had before. I' m certain that's what's going to happen with us, as well."

If you're on Route 773 on Sunday at 9am, you may also hear the church's bell. Pastor Nichols says while it fell from the steeple during the fire, they were able to salvage it. He says it's a tradition on Easter for them to ring the bell to mark the resurrection of Christ.

If you'd like to give to the church's rebuilding efforts:

The St. Paul Restoration Fund
First Community Bank
P O Box 417
Newberry, SC 29108

The Newberry County Sheriff's Office says while they know the fire started between the church and the educational building. Sheriff Lee Foster says while the fire is not being investigated as suspicious, they still don't know how it started.

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