POMARIA — “Built on a Rock the church shall stand, Even as steeples are falling …”
On a fateful morning in 1786, church members gathered in stunned silence, many shedding tears as they watched fire consume their beloved church building. They stood near the banks of a small branch on the property realizing that a bucket brigade was no match for consuming flames.
St. Paul Lutheran Church, one of the earliest Lutheran churches in Newberry County that played a key role in establishing the Lutheran church in the Carolinas in the mid-18th century, had been destroyed. The log cabin structure located on land donated by King George III of England through a land grant had been used about 25 years until that day.
With rock solid faith, the members vowed to rebuild. And they did.
Two more churches followed, a frame structure used until 1830 and then the third church, a white weatherboard building about 30 feet by 60 feet. Then, in the heart of the Great Depression, members left a lasting legacy for the congregation, sacrificing to build the granite church that stood — until once again fire consumed it last week.
That church was built using granite harvested about seven miles northwest of Pomaria off Arthur Eugene Lomminick’s property in Newberry County under the leadership of architect Willie Koon and stonemason George Washington.
The congregation stepped out on faith with its resources: four bales of cotton, some rented land, 60,000 feet of timber harvested from the church property, the promise of $500 and the gift of granite. People gave their time and talents and the church held its first service in 1938.
Now, in 2013, on the heels of the Great Recession, it will be up to the community to make its own sacrifices of time and financial resources to determine what legacy it leaves.
Nearly 600 people gathered on the church lawn Sunday for the 11 a.m. worship service, and half of them were community members, not church members.
“There was an overwhelming community response, so very strong and we need to offer thanks to people who came and helped fight the fire who were on the scene within minutes. I have nothing but praise for Sheriff Lee Foster and the department for their professionalism, sensitivity and kindness,” said Brent Nichols, pastor of St. Paul. “I frequently pray that God will help us know as we walk through the doors of the church that we are not leaving church.
“We are people of God, the body of Christ, the church going into the community and world,” he continued. “We are witnessing that this morning. We can say at the same time that the church is still the people. … We can look behind us and say that this is just a building, but we know that is not true. It is more than a building. It is holy, something set apart for God and God’s purposes. There is a building and place set apart. A sense of holiness, sacredness about this place in lives of people who were members here and grew up here in the community.”
Nichols’ wife, Lynn, teaches Christian preschool and one of her students showed up with her piggy bank to give $41.01 as the first donation to the rebuilding fund because she was sad the church had burned.
Remembrance was a theme of the sermon by the Rev. Herman Yoos, Bishop of the South Carolina Synod. He told parishioners of “remember” used in scripture.
“The word ‘remember’ has ongoing significance that connects the past to present reality,” he said. “It shapes who we are in the here and now to remember memories of lives that are blessed. Connects you to God and one another in reality that continues to uphold you today in this time of loss.”
Yoos mentioned that the writers of the Psalms teach the importance and power of taking one’s laments to God. One of the most important things he said congregation members can do is to share those laments and the grieving process, yet he urged they not stop there. Part of trusting God’s grace to carry them through the rebuilding effort and to be a blessing to future generations comes by sharing not coincidences but “God instances.”
One such “God instance” is represented by the church walls.
One of the first people Celie Addy, director of communications for the South Carolina Synod, called was Michael Kohn, vice president of the South Carolina Synod. Kohn, the first synod staffer to arrive, was instrumental in keeping the sanctuary walls from being torn down because he designed braces that could preserve them until engineers could assess their structural integrity.
As he drove there, he said he was praying his experience as an architect would be used in some way to make a difference. His prayers were answered.
Yoos reminded those gathered how “it is vitally important to share such signs of hope, signs of the power and presence of God shining through from South Carolina and beyond. The fire was not an act of God. God does not cause destruction but he brings resurrection and new life.”
St. Paul’s educational building will be torn down but the fate of the church walls is not yet known. Some things cannot be replaced, such as Nichols’ study notes and books from his years in seminary, his old sermons and his short stories.
The St. Paul congregation will worship at the old Pomaria Elementary School on Sunday. Loose offering from the Jan. 13 service went to the rebuilding efforts. Donations to the rebuilding efforts can be mailed to First Community Bank, P.O. Box 417, Newberry, SC 29108. Check should be make payable to St. Paul Restoration Fund.
Visit www.stpaulpomaria.com or the church’s Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/stpaulpomaria for more information.