Mount Holly Church congregation meets Sunday after church fire

MOUNT HOLLY, N.C. — Officials have not yet determined what caused a fire that destroyed a church sanctuary Thursday afternoon in Mount Holly.

On Sunday investigators said it was possible that it was started by a lightning strike.

The 90-plus year-old building caught fire around 3:10 p.m. on Thursday. No one was inside the church at that time.

Members watched with tear-filled eyes as 150 firefighters tried desperately for hours to put out the fire.

“We celebrated our oldest son and his wife’s third anniversary just yesterday. They were married here,” Julia Benfield said while standing outside the burning church.

Benfield said she and her family has attended the church for 12 years.

Her husband is a police captain and responded to the scene, and the couple’s other son is a firefighter.

Benfield said he was one of several firefighters who initially ran into the burning sanctuary in an effort to put out the fire.

“As soon as I got here, I was told he was in the building, and that didn’t shock me at all,” she said.

Two bibles, intact, were pulled from the destroyed sanctuary, bringing community members to tears.

Once the fire was under control, firefighters found them on the pulpit.

“Somehow the bibles always make it,” said one member holding them. Another member cried tears of joy and took a picture to send to the church’s lead pastor, who was out of town during the fire.

Members later embraced hands and formed a circle around a fire captain as he led them in prayer.

The church has been overwhelmed by the community’s support while other churches and schools offered their buildings for Sunday service.

Officials were able to contain the fire in the sanctuary, saving the remaining buildings that make up the church.

"The walls are very unstable in a couple of places and could potentially come down without a lot of movement," Fire Marshall Eric Hendrix said Friday.

Ricky Wrenn was among the church members who saw the fire Thursday.

"It's really heartbreaking," Wrenn said.

There is good news.

The pews, stained-glass windows and other valuables are salvageable.

The congregation met anyways on Sunday morning and used the municipal building as their sanctuary.

The fire remains under investigation.

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