Biloxi Church Plans To Rise From Fire - WLOX.com - The News for South Mississippi

03/13/05

Biloxi Church Plans To Rise From Fire

Heartbroken but hopeful. 

That's how a members of First Faith Missionary Baptist church in Biloxi describe their feelings the morning after fire destroyed the Division Street church.

Firefighters who responded to Saturday night's fire say it was so bad that those who tried to enter the building were immediately forced out by heat and smoke.

They then spent the next two hours trying to get the blaze under control and protect nearby houses.

The next day members of First Faith Missionary talked about how they plan rise from this tragedy.

"I felt bad. I kind of wanted to cry," said Willard Stallings.

As he stood next to what was left of beloved church, it occurred to him how differently this Sunday morning was from the one he had in mind.

"It was going to be my Sunday to preach and I was excited today about coming today and preaching. This is what I have to come down for and I feel kind of bad," he said

Instead of a congregation of worshipers, fire investigators gathered at First Faith Missionary Baptist.

Members say the Division Street building was built in late 50's and been home to First Faith for 30 years.

Bertha Otis is also an associate minister.

"When you've been somewhere for a long time it's like losing a family member. We had just done quite a bit of renovation about a year ago in there so it was kind of painful," she said.

In grief the congregation says it is also finding hope and a determination not to let the fire that destroyed their church also destroy their spirit.

"They wanted to come down this morning and have service in the parking lot," said Stallings.

"I kind of stopped that. I told them the investigation is still going on so we don't want to get in their way. They want to come worship the Lord and I'm glad of that," he added.

"We're going to come out because we're standing on God's word. In His word He says I'll give you beauty for ashes and I'll give you joy for morning. We know that His word is true and we know because His word is true, we're going to be just fine," Stallings said.

Church members say they've been receiving a lot of support from the community since the fire and are now looking for a place to hold services until their church is rebuilt.

Meanwhile, federal investigators are helping to determine the cause of Saturday night's fire.

Biloxi fire chief David Roberts says protocol is to call in the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms when a church burns.

"If you remember a couple of years ago when there was all the trouble of churches being burned and stuff like that so we're kind of sensitive to that at this point," said Roberts.

"We don't suspect anything right now but we're going to check it all out," added Roberts.

The ATF says there is another reason they are in on the investigation.

With such a large building, agents say more manpower is needed to quickly determine a cause.

The ATF stresses its presence doesn't necessarily point to an arson.

by Danielle Thomas

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