A Rock Hill church west of downtown was almost completely destroyed after a fire Thursday.
Yet church leaders said the huge cross that is atop the church steeple still stands — which is a sign that the church will persevere.
"The Lord will get us through," said the Rev. Bruce Wyatt, pastor of Gospel Light Baptist Church, who vowed that the church's 100 parishioners will rebound and rebuild.
The fire and investigation forced West Main Street, between Constitution Boulevard and Cherry Road, to be closed for several hours.
The sanctuary of the church at 832 W. Main St. suffered severe structural damage after the fire was reported at 6:18 a.m., said Mark Simmons, Rock Hill Fire Department deputy chief. Firefighters found flames shooting through the sanctuary roof and needed about 45 minutes to get the fire under control, Simmons said.
"This was a major fire — the sanctuary was fully involved," Simmons said.
More than 25 firefighters from six companies in the city responded, Simmons said.
No one was hurt in the fire, Simmons said.
The cause remains under investigation, said Simmons and Rock Hill Fire Marshal Otis Driggers, who was on the scene. Determination of a cause could take several days, Driggers said.
Because the fire was at a church, state and federal law requires State Law Enforcement Division agents and federal agents from the Department of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives to be part of the investigation, Rock Hill officials said. SLED agents and ATF agents arrived soon after the fire was out.
Thursday afternoon, a team of ATF agents, SLED agents, and Rock Hill Fire Department investigators were inside the building sifting through the damage.
State and federal officials were not available on sight for comment about the investigation.
The church is located between Constitution Boulevard and Cherry Road.
The dollar amount of damage remains unclear. However, the sanctuary was destroyed and other parts of the building had smoke and water damage.
Gospel Light, with about 100 members, has been in the building across Main Street from Drum Tire since 2007, in a building formerly used by a Nazarene church, said Wyatt. Wyatt said he was called as the fire was being fought by Rock Hill Fire Department Chief Mike Blackmon, a church member.
Wyatt arrived to find the sanctuary on fire.
Other members arrived, and as church members cried and held hands, people held prayer services together even as firefighters battled the blaze. Some Rock Hill Police Department officers who were on scene for traffic and other duties also offered support through prayer.
Wyatt said the fire was "difficult and devastating," but he vowed that his parish would find strength in God and community.
"God has a plan for all of us and we will get through this," Wyatt said outside the burned church. "This has shook all of us, but we will get through it together, with God's help. We appreciate all the prayers from people and support that has already come in."
Church offices in the same building did not burn, but fire officials and Wyatt said the entire building has smoke and water damage. The church does have fire insurance, but church officials had not yet met with insurance adjustors, Wyatt said.
The church did not have Wednesday night services the evening before the fire, Wyatt said. The building dates back to the 1950s.
"We haven't been able to get inside yet to see what can be saved or salvaged, but we will continue our work at Gospel Light," Wyatt said.
A second church building on the property was not damaged, Wyatt said. The church can hold services there if need be and as of late Thursday planned to hold Sunday services in the second building, Wyatt said.
Gospel Light is not a member church of the York Baptist Association, but Mike Wallace of the association that represents more than 80 Baptist churches in York County arrived on scene to offer help.
"We all are hurt by this fire, and we will do what we can to help from here," Wallace said.
Church members assembled outside the property during the day Thursday to pray and comfort each other. Wyatt, the pastor, said that the strength of any church is its people — not the physical building. The building can be replaced,
Andrew Dys: 803-329-4065, @AndrewDysHerald