A century after last fire, Hale County church goes up in flames

A church in the Hale County community of Gallion lies in ashes for the second time since it first broke ground in 1855.

On Friday, Bethlehem Baptist Church was reduced to little more than piles of burned-out rubble. One of the few things left intact was the church’s bell.

The cause of the fire has not yet been determined.

When WVUA 23’s Chelsea Barton visited the church Wednesday, afternoon showers soaked through the burned husk that stood for nearly a century.

“My heart went to my stomach,” said Rev. James R. Murdock, who has been Bethlehem Baptist’s pastor for 40 years. “I baptized my daughter here. I baptized my grandson here. Many souls have been saved in this church.”

But it’s not the first time Bethlehem has gone up in flames. The church’s original structure, built in 1855, was destroyed by arson in 1923. A year later, the church built itself back again. That structure served as the church’s home until Friday.

“It is under investigation,” said Gallion Volunteer Fire Assistant Chief Michael Clemmer. “The state fire marshal, obviously with a church like this, they are going to get involved. They are investigating, they are sending out a team to see if there was an accelerant involved. ”

And the bell? There’s no question about its fate.

“We are going to keep the bell,” Murdock said. “The bell is history. And I would like to tell you why. It used to be, when somebody passed away in the community, we’d ring it about three times to let the community know that somebody had passed away.”

One of the church’s oldest members is Charles Hall.

“It hurts. It’s a big hurt,” Hall said. “Two or three generations have come since I joined.”

Hall has been a member of Bethlehem Baptist Church for most of his life. As sad as it is to pull into the driveway and not see the beautiful structure standing, no church is defined by its walls.

“It’ll make watery eyes when you think about it,” Hall said. “It really does. But we know if we keep our faith in God, we know we are coming back. We aren’t giving up.”

Bethlehem members have already received donations from all around the country for their rebuild.

Categories: Featured, Local News