POMARIA —One of the oldest churches in the county with a rich history was destroyed by fire Thursday morning.
St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, located on Highway 773 just off I-26 at Wicker Road in the Pomaria area of the county, was destroyed by the early Thursday fire.
Members of the congregation were huddled together weeping as firefighters from around the county continued to battle the blaze.
The cause of the fire is unknown but as is standard procedure Newberry County Sheriff Lee Foster has called in the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division and ATF. The two agencies are called to any church fire, according to Foster.
Foster said his officers are talking to all the observers and to the last people that were in the church to try to determine the cause.
Firefighters from Pomaria, Newberry, Friendly, Whitmire, St. Philips, Consolidated, Prosperity, Lexington and other stations around the county turned out just after 6:30 a.m. Thursday.
The fire closed Highway 773 until just before 3 p.m. but at that time any available firefighter was asked to come back to the church to clean up hoses and other items on the scene.
Pastor Brent Nichols said he was stunned as he watched flames and smoke come from the stone remains.
Around 460 people are members of the church that was founded in 1761 and the church is known as the mother of the Lutheran churches in the county. It is debated if St. Pauls or St. Johns is the oldest church in the county, according to members.
The St. Paul members just celebrated their 250th anniversary last year and a historical marker was put in front of the church in 2011.
Debbie Werts who is writing the church’s history says this is not the first time the church has burned.
The front of the church burned in 1939 and was rebuilt.
“We will do it again,” said Werts, as she watched with hopes of rebuilding as smoke poured through the building.
In fact, she added this is the fourth building the church members have had.
“The church building may be destroyed but thankfully no one was hurt in the fire. Since the church is the people, the church is okay…. sad and hurting, but still very blessed,” said member Kevin Boozer. “Things can be replaced and we’ll rebuild.”
For Werts she says this will be an unpleasant chapter to add to the church’s history.
“We are a close community,” she said as she acknowledged all those who gathered at the scene.
Included in the gathering were other ministers from around the county.
Newberry Fire Chaplin Floyd Sides was lending his support at the fire as was Newberry College Chaplin Ernie Worman, who said several college students attended the church.
At press time, no announcements have been made about where church services will be held on Sunday.
Mt. Tabor Lutheran Church in Little Mountain, will hold a prayer service Saturday at 7 p.m. for the community to show support for the congregation.