Published: 08/10/2003

Page: A1

Brent D. Wistrom

Times Record News

JOLLY – With a strike of lightning, the only church in the small town of Jolly caught fire and burned Saturday morning.

But members of Jolly Baptist Church, some of whom walked to the building when it was a schoolhouse in the 1940s, won’t miss a hymn – or a 50th wedding anniversary. They say the 25 or so members of the congregation will move Sunday services just down Milton Street to a city office that was built on land donated by the church.

“Church will still go on,” said former pastor Brother Warren Hall, who transferred to Allendale Baptist Church in Wichita Falls two weeks ago, but spent Saturday with church members he led in prayer for six years. “Even though a lot of stuff has gone on at that building, it’s the people that are the church. This just draws us closer together.”

Witnesses and volunteer firefighters who battled the blaze said the fire began after a bolt of lightning hit the roof of the 75-year-old brick building at about 11 a.m. By the time volunteers from five area fire departments began dousing the flames, the fire had already moved along old wood beams in the church attic, according to Jolly Volunteer Fire Department Captain Russell Mcilroy.

Winds drew the flames into Sunday school rooms, a stairwell and down walls throughout the building, firefighters said. The fire was controlled in about 20 minutes and no one was injured, Mcilroy said.

Inside, the floors of the church were covered in muddy soot and charcoaled boards warped across the ceilings like winding tar roads. The mystery of fire left balloons on a hand-made vacation bible school poster fully inflated, but withered book shelves right next to them.

The church building, which members said is valued at about $100,000, was insured.    “It’s probably not worth it to them to gut it and renovate,” Mcilroy said. They may not need to.

Firefighters and community members ran into the church to remove pianos, church records and photos while flames were still rekindling and the building was smoldering, firefighters said.

For people like Billy H. Wallace and his wife Deanie, who were married in the church 50 years ago next Saturday, an untold number of memories lived in the building, but it won’t stop them from worshiping and enjoying things more important than buildings.

The couple, which planned to celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary reception at the church next Saturday with family and friends from Maryland and Arkansas, said sometimes things just work out for the better.

“Thank the Lord it (the reception) was next weekend and not this one,” said Deanie.

Billy and Deanie, whose daughter was also married in the church 27 years ago, said they’ll move the festivities to an administrative building in Henrietta.

“It was going to be a big deal,” said Hall, who was with the couple in their home just a walk down the street from the church. “It still is.”