By Stephanie Rebman and David Helms/NEMS Daily Journal
PONTOTOC – A longtime Pontotoc church lost its sanctuary to fire on Wednesday.
Zion Baptist Church on Valley Road caught fire around 3:15 p.m. Wednesday, just one week before a grand celebration for its 175th anniversary.
Palmetto, Ecru, Pontotoc, Longview and Furrs fire units managed to save the church’s fellowship hall and a new addition, but the sanctuary that was built in 1954 was a complete loss, according to Pontotoc County Emergency Management Agency Director Rickey Jaggers.
Congregation member Ann Leeper reported the fire when she exited her home after hearing a loud noise and saw flames at the back of the sanctuary.
“A guy out in the back who lives behind the church said he saw a lighting bolt hit, and the girl who lives in the parsonage said she heard it,” Leeper said.
Leeper said the congregation has already invited past pastors, members and more for the 175th celebration next weekend, but they will look to mark the occasion at a sister church.
“We had done so much work on renovating and cleaning and getting a book done for our 175 anniversary of the church,” Leeper said. “I don’t know what we’ll do now, but the church is the people, not the building.”
Pastor Robert Armstrong was out of town when he got the news.
“We’re hurrying back to look things over and get everyone together,” he said. “We’ll come back, it’s just going to take some time,” he said.
Elaine Corder, who has attended Zion Baptist for 65 years, shared in the day’s sadness among church members.
“I’ve never been a member of another church, this church is a part of my home,” Corder said. “This is so, so sad. When we drove up and saw it, it was like our hearts were going up in smoke too.”
Jaggers said the cause of the fire is still under investigation.