Service goes on after flames destroy Aiken Co. church

News 12 at 6 o'clock / Sunday, July 15, 2012

AIKEN, S.C. -- Hayden Baptist Church was destroyed by flames Tuesday. Fire crews say they believe lightning is to blame for the blaze.
But, with Bible in suitcase, surrounded by hoops and scoreboards, Sunday's service went on at Smith Hazel Recreation Center.

It was a bittersweet morning of worship for the members, and one full of hope for the future.

But, along with prayer and joyful music, there were also a few tears.

Verta Jackson says the whole experience has been grueling: "It just feels so unreal because that's home to me, I've been there all my life."

Robert Heflin, the pastor at Hayden Baptist, recalls the night he watched his church go up in smoke, saying, "When I saw that flame spread throughout the building, my heart just sank."

A blazing inferno lit up the night sky Tuesday, as nearly a century and a half of memories went up in smoke.

"Families of Hayden, they grew up in that area, that was the church that there forefathers founded, so there's lots of history, lots of heritage that have been lost with that building," Heflin said.

Jackson said, "So many memories, it was just my saving grace, you know."

But even though their beloved church is just a pile of rubble now, they say this is just the chance for a brand new beginning.

"Maybe this is something for us to come together and be even closer than we already are," said Tesheba Richardson, the church secretary.

Although their Sunday service was held in the shadow of basketball hoops, a reminder of their guest status at the Smith Hazel Recreation Center, members say the service felt just like home.

"This may sound strange, but I'm excited! I'm excited because I know God has some great plans for us in the very near future," Heflin said.

The church says they have been overwhelmed with support from the community. They have had offers of help from several churches in the area, and they want to say thank you for all of the support.

They will be deciding between two churches that have offered their buildings for the Hayden congregation.

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