OXFORD, Miss. (WREG)– The historical College Hill Presbyterian Church in Lafayette County, Mississippi went up flames Saturday, leaving its small tight-knit congregation heartbroken and shocked.
While only its walls are left standing, church leaders and members vow to rebuild and carry on.
For church member Robert Thorn, there is little that can be said about the raging fire that consumed the nearly 180-year-old church on Saturday.
“Horror…absolute horror,” he said.
Monday, Thorn could walk no farther than the yellow crime scene tape around the church property. Even though the sanctuary is destroyed, he recalls exactly where he would sit every Sunday morning.
“The left center portion of the church, the sanctuary, on the fourth row from the front,” he said.
He knows the fire isn’t a test of the congregation but an affirmation of its faith.
“We’re sad but we’re very optimistic about our future and we always have to remember this is part of God’s plan,” Thorn said.
The Lafayette County Fire Department reported fire coming from the rear of the church when they arrived Saturday night. The fire spread quickly and made an interior attack too dangerous.
College Hill Presbyterian, located just north of Oxford, has been the site of numerous weddings, including that of famous author William Faulkner and during the Civil War, General Ulysess Grant and 30,000 Union troops camped on the church property.
But Wayne Prather admits historical highlights mean nothing when compared to being able to salvage the church’s large podium Bible from the ashes. The Bible contains handwritten notes from the pastor dating back to the 1860s.
“His Word survived when everything else around it crumbles, catches fire, tornado comes through…whatever. God’s word stands,” Prather said. “People think it’s just an old historical building but we are a very active congregation. We’ve held services in it every Sunday.”
The exact cause of the fire is still being looked into by local, state, and federal investigators. For the foreseeable future, church members will hold services in their Fellowship Hall on the church grounds