‘That building is not the church, the people are the church:’ First Baptist a total loss after fire in Cowpens

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COWPENS, S.C. (WSPA) – A fire at a church in Cowpens resulted in a total loss on Saturday afternoon.

Cowpens Fire Chief Tony Blanton said the fire at First Baptist Church of Cowpens remains under investigation, but doesn’t appear to be suspicious.

Crews responded to the scene at about 2:15 p.m. after a church secretary found the Church Street building on fire, Chief Blanton said.

Blanton said after crews arrived, the fire had already advanced to the attic and subsequently spread throughout the rest of the church. He said it appears to be a total loss as a result. The cause of the fire is currently unknown.

Roughly 20 fire departments assisted and 60 firefighters were on scene. Blanton said the Fire Marshall’s office has been contacted to assist in the investigation.

One firefighter suffered a laceration to the head, Blanton said. But he confirmed no one else was injured in the fire. Blanton said crews will continue to work on salvaging what they can.

“We’re worried about some collapse issues from the front side of the building with the steeple. We’re going to try and take care of that through the night,” he said.

Worship Pastor Larry Lawson says he’s devastated. He was raised sitting on the front row every Sunday.

“Growing up here and driving here I was just thinking of the wonderful memories we had,” Lawson said. “I could see it coming from Spartanburg and this is the second fire we’ve had as a church…to go through it again as an adult is a lot harder.”

Amid the destruction, Interim Pastor Kermit Morris says God was with them.

“When the fire was burning right over the sanctuary, a rainbow appeared right in the midst of the fire and it’s God’s promise that he’s going to be with us and we know that, we understand that,” Morris said.

Church leaders said they do still plan on having Sunday service at Broome High School Fine Arts Center at 10:30 a.m.

“That building is not the church. The people are the church,” Morris said.

“This is a pretty big staple in the city of Cowpens,” Blanton added. He offered a message of hope telling the church members to “just stay strong. You have a building out back we were able to save. Hopefully you meet in that building tomorrow.”

According to the church’s website, the church caught fire in Dec. of 1987 while the steeple was being repaired. The steeple, balcony and much of the sanctuary interior were severely damaged at that time. The reconstructed building was dedicated on September 17, 1989. The sanctuary underwent another renovation in 2016.

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