ROBESON COUNTY, NC (WMBF) – A Robeson County church that has been in the community for 137 years burned to the ground overnight Wednesday.
Michael Ellerbe, the interim pastor of Sandy Grove Baptist Church, said on Wednesday night after Bible study from 7 to 8:30 p.m., they walked outside and smelled something burning, so they turned off all the lights and the generator. On Thursday morning, they got a call saying the church was on fire.
"Well at first it was like unbelievable ... tragic … it's heart wrenching," Ellerbe said.
Other church members arrived to the same disbelief.
"They were very hurt, heart-wrenching, crying, you know and everything … just looking at the church because it has so much history," Ellerbe said.
The church dates back 137 years in the Maxton community, serving over 200 members. Many of them, like Frankie Hall, grew up in the church.
"I used to come out here on my wagon, back of my uncle's wagon. I was one of the ones that helped preserve this place," Hall, 60, said.
Sandy Grove was more than a church. It hosted a number of other gatherings, like family reunions. Ellerbe said they were planning to build a family center.
Hall said the congregation lost more than a building in the fire; they lost years of keepsakes, from pictures of former preachers to historical church music.
"I was praying that they got here in time to save most of our stuff, especially our historical stuff in the church, but when I got here and saw the condition I knew that all was destroyed," he said.
But not all is lost. Church members said even through the building was destroyed, their spirit was not.
"We're going to continue to live, we're going to continue to love, and we're going to trust that God is going to bring us back stronger than what we was before," Hall said.
The church is waiting on fire investigators to provide a cause for the fire. The pastor also said they've never had any issues before. Now, they're just trying to heal and find a temporary location for Sunday's service.
WMBF News has reached out to the Robeson County Fire Department for more information.