Cottondale church moves ‘from shock to blessing’ after fire
Feb 10, 2014
Florida Baptist Witness

DESTROYED An early morning fire destroyed most of the church facilities at First Baptist Church in Cottonwood Nov. 25. Striking only hours after a Thanksgiving service, the fire is said to have been sparked by an electrical short in a breaker box. Churches in the association and others throughout Florida and Southern Baptist life have reached out to help. Courtesy photo
COTTONDALE (FBW)—After two months, First Baptist Church in Cottondale is recovering from a fire that destroyed most of its church facilities Nov. 25. The fire began only hours after Pastor Jack Brock led a Thanksgiving testimony service with the theme “Can You Praise God in Good Times and Bad?” 

According to Brock, who has served as pastor since 1986, “God hit home” with the question after the fire. He said the congregation has now moved “beyond shock to blessing.”

“It has been like God reached down and wrapped a blanket of peace around us,” he said.

Brock rushed to the church at 6 a.m. Monday as firefighters were still dousing remaining hot spots of the blaze that was sparked by an electrical short in a breaker box in the sanctuary building. The church had worshipped in the red brick sanctuary since 1947.

“A friend who was standing with me that morning told me I looked like I had lost a friend, and he was right. It was like seeing my own home burn down,” Brock said. “I was a wreck for about three days—in shock, I think.”

Chipola Baptist Association Director of Missions Coba Beasley and Shelley Chandler, pastor of First Baptist Church in Bonifay, stood with Brock watching the blaze, as did local pastors of other denominations. They stayed with him all morning, Brock said.

Within days of the fire, donations arrived from other Chipola association churches, and local churches of other denominations. First Baptist Church in Ocala sent 120 Baptist Hymnals. The Florida Baptist Convention pledged 50 percent of the cost of a portable building, up to $30,000, Coba Beasley said.

DAMAGE Although not much is left building-wise at First Baptist in Cottonwood, the congregation has rallied and is “remaining strong,” according to longtime pastor Jack Brock. “We’re a small church with a large spirit,” he said. Courtesy photo
The church secretary called LifeWay Christian Resources to re-order curriculum literature, and it was replaced at no charge. Not long after the church received its new literature, boxes arrived from LifeWay containing scores of books and commentaries to help restock the pastor’s library, a “very expensive investment by LifeWay,” Brock said.

“To see so many people come together to help really warms your heart,” he said.

Brock was pleased to find his personal pastoral record book in the wreckage of his office. It contains 30 years of sermons, baptisms, weddings and funerals. 

Meanwhile, the church recently received a proposal from its insurance company, and “we’re going over the numbers now,” he said. The remaining shell of the sanctuary building stands awaiting the settlement. The brick fellowship hall building has been gutted after smoke and water damage, and remodeling may begin by January 31. A three-piece modular building provides some classroom space.

A one-year-old metal youth building has become the worship center—minus the Yamaha grand piano, Rodgers organ and praise band instruments that were lost. Volunteers attempted to clean up the pulpit, but “it smelled too bad to use,” Brock said.

His first sermon after the fire began with “Welcome to your new home,” he said. He cited Psalm 142 to show that “even in a time of anguish, God kept His promise to His people to lift them up again.”

Church attendance grew through the Christmas season and remains strong, with new families and new teenagers coming every Sunday, the pastor said. He baptized a mother and her teenaged daughter on the first Sunday the congregation met in the youth building, and a teenaged boy made a profession of faith January 12.

“We are remaining strong, and we’re having a great time in the Lord,” Brock said. “We’re a small church with a large spirit.”

Building a sanctuary is something new for both Brock and the congregation. An advisory committee of 20 is evaluating the use of the church’s property, one city block. They have a vision of a new sanctuary in about a year, he said.

Brock said the 120-year-old church hopes to rebuild in red brick in tribute to its historic sanctuary that was “a monument in Cottondale.” He said they hope to use the original foundations, although Coba Beasley said new ordinances may prevent new buildings being built so close to Highway 231.

“We needed more space, but we never thought it would come like this,” Brock said.

The church and the committee charged with planning remain unified in spirit, the pastor said. He requests prayer from Florida Baptists for continued unity throughout the recovery and rebuilding.

“We know that God is fixing to do something special here because the church is of the same mind. This has brought us closer,” he said. 

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