Gatlinburg Pastor Pete Lamon was cutoff by the fires as he and his wife tried to check on some of their property and in this episodes discusses the great destruction that swept through the mountains surrounding Banner Baptist Church and ultimately destroyed half the church’s property, along with the homes of seven church members.
Chris Turner: Oh, and welcome to this episode of Radio B&R. I’m Chris Turner, your host, and today we’re actually recording this from Gatlinburg-Sevierville area, and I’m here with Pastor Pete Lamon from Banner Baptist Church, whose church sustained some damage. Brother Pete, uh, welcome.
Pete Lamon: Thank you.
Chris Turner: Um, so tell us a little bit about what happened last week, uh, with-with the fires here in Gatlinburg an-and how that affected your church.
Pete Lamon: Yeah. Well, the- the fires w- obviously, were moving, uh, quite rapidly and, uh, my wife and I weren’t home and, uh, she kept coming here and telling me, said, “Don’t you think we need to go up and check on things?” And I kept thinking, well, it’s far enough away, we won’t have to worry about it, but, uh, within, uh, a few hours, uh, we realized how serious it was, and so we went up to try to, uh, check on our- our shop as well as the church, but, uh, by the time we got there, the fire had moved to a point we couldn’t even get into the area. We just had to turn around and come back, and so it was the next day that we learned that our church had lost its fellowship hall.
Chris Turner: Uh, you had- You had, uh, mentioned earlier just about how f- how rapidly the fire moved and [crosstalk] [01:10] that you had served 15 years as a volunteer fireman [crosstalk] [01:13], so you had an interesting perspective on it.
Pete Lamon: Yeah. Right. Yeah. When we got up to a point where we couldn’t go any farther, we actually seen the fire moving down, uh, Roaring Fork [crosstalk] [01:21]. Uh, it was- The fire was burning downhill, which, as a fireman, I’ve never seen that happen before, but the wind was blowing it so hard, it was moving downhill. It actually jumping the creek and looked like a blowtorch, just blowing across the road and spreading the fire. Just jumping from one place to the other. It was just… For a fireman of my experience, th-that was an amazing sight. I’d never seen anything like that.
Chris Turner: Mm-hmm. And, obviously, a fire like that is is extremely dangerous with as rapidly as it moving. I think [crosstalk] [01:49] y’all has talked about hu- [crosstalk] [01:50] how unpredictable it seemed to [crosstalk] [01:52] be.
Pete Lamon: Oh, yeah. Mm-hmm. Oh, sure. It- It was clear the fire just moved the way the wind was blowing, and it was, uh, a type of fire you don’t control it. You just get out of its way [crosstalk] [01:59], ‘cause, uh, you don’t stop it. The wind just keeps it going. [crosstalk] [02:02] That’s what…
Chris Turner: Mm-hmm. So as you got up kind of towards that- that area, uh, you could already tell that there was going to be a lot of devastation.
Pete Lamon: Oh, absolutely. Yeah. Yeah.
Chris Turner: And so, uh, your church is really located, uh, if people are familiar with that area of Gatlinburg, along the spur on the way [crosstalk] [02:16] up or way down [crosstalk] [02:17], depending on what. An-and just kind of talk about that area up behind your church [crosstalk] [02:21] and what- Who- who all lives up there and that kind of thing.
Pete Lamon: Oh. Yeah. Mmm. Yeah. Well, the- the Banner Church was, uh, originally constructed, uh, uh, the building itself was back in the ‘50s. Um, the church was built for 120 years, but, uh, the Banner community had been the area that it served for years, and, uh, so we have a lot of member that live up above the church and up that holler, and, uh, when y-you look at how the fire came through that area, it came through by our church and went up the hill and that way, and it just begin to get home after home after home and, uh, and we’ve- We’ve now learned that we have seven families that have lost everything. Uh, and [crosstalk] [03:02] not only there, but over in the Roaring Fork area.
Chris Turner: Wow. Then just to put that in perspective, uh, i-it Banner is not a big church.
Pete Lamon: No. We- We have about 30, 35 on Sunday morning, so, you know, you’re- you’re looking at probably 25 percent of our congregation, uh, have been affected by this fire in a devastating way.
Chris Turner: And what exactly damage did the church sustain?
Pete Lamon: Uh, we lost our fellowship hall, which was a building that we built back about 15 years ago. Uh, it was the newest structure on the property and, uh, uh, th-the- The land- We had some folks give us some land and then we bought a piece of land and- and, uh, uh, they had built it then, and so it was our newest building.
Chris Turner: The interesting thing here is just the weeks leading up. The sermon series, uh, that you were talking about. Just gi- tell us a little bit about that- that [crosstalk] [03:48] What you were doing and-and what your [crosstalk] [03:50] original context [crosstalk] [03:51] for that was.
Pete Lamon: Yeah. Oh. Yeah. Yeah. Uh, y- I had- For several months, I had been preaching my series in the Book of Job. Uh, I title the series When the Storms of Life Are Raging. Basically, what do you do and-and the purpose of our series was to-to-to try to help us learn how to get through suffering when it comes, uh, but also teaches us how to minister to people that are suffering, and I think the Book of Job does that very well. It gives us the principles and the ideas that we can follow. But, you know, it was a time when our election was going on and-and a lot of social issues were being… And a lot a, uh, hatred and violence being from either side [phonetic] [04:28], so my concept of hard times, I was in the con- was politically and socially. And, uh, I-I just never imagined that the pain and suffering would come in this context, and it just, uh, just astounded me.
And, in fact, the Sunday before the fire, uh, my sermon, uh, was really on, uh, the idea that God will often give us a wake-up call. That something tragic will happen, uh, to get our attention to where we’re ready to listen to what He has to say and-and, uh… I don’t believe God was the author of this event, but I do believe He was sovereign in it, and He is still sovereign now, working through it, and that’s why, uh, we look at it from that perspective. That it’s an opportunity to move forward in a positive way.
Chris Turner: And you had talked about the importance, ‘cause you- you- your church, your congregation met that following Sunday after the fire, and you just talked about the importance of staying together.
Pete Lamon: Absolutely. We- We understood, and I- I’ve been pastor for a long time, and that anytime there’s something like this an-an-and it displaces the congregation, it’s so critical that you stay together. I-If you just have to meet in a field somewhere, y-you need to get together, talk, encourage and help one another, and then talk about helping others out. I find when you’re hurting, and you have your own pain, uh, that pain becomes less intense when you’re really focusing on trying to help people who are suffering, and so. Uh, and I found that to be true. We can go. That’s what we begin to talk about and that’s why our impetus right now is putting together, uh, efforts to try to give some kind of w-, uh, short-term sustainability to these families that have lost everything. ‘Cause it’s not wh- y-y- a few months down the road, there’s still gonna be this need and this problem, and we need to be prepared to-to sustain that in the long term.
Chris Turner: And talk a little bit about that, because there really is a great, uh, outpouring of- of, uh, concern for this area, of people really wanting to rush to help [crosstalk] [06:17], but, uh, there is help that hurts, not that- that [crosstalk] [06:21] You know, people are well meaning, it’s just there are a lot of things right now that people are wanting to do that it’s impossible to do. Talk just a little bit about, from your perspective in your church, about what would be a way for- for people to help not only your church [crosstalk] [06:34] but people in this area.
Pete Lamon: Mm-hmm. Right. Mm-hmm. Yep. Well, right now, th-th-the best kind of help is financial, uh, because with that, we’re able to take funds and to focus on w- specific needs and issues that people have, uh, but also the- the- The desire to help, we hope that that desire continues months down the road, because that’s when we’re gonna find, uh, a tremendous outpouring of need when we start assessing the needs of these families and folks that, uh, you know, after the insurance are through talking an-and, uh, they’re looking at trying to recover, there’s gonna be tremendous needs there for people, uh, to be able to sustain their life while they recover. A-and so we- We don’t wanna lose these folks who will help us, uh, i-in the short term.
Chris Turner: [clears throat] [07:18] One of the ways people can help i- financially, at least, right now. The easiest way is to, uh, visit tndisasterrelief dot org slash contributions. There’s a page set up there. You’ll see, uh, fire relief at the top of that page for, uh, the Gatlinburg area. Um, that can be directed there. You can also mail a check to PO Box 728, Brentwood, Tennessee, 37024, and just designate that Disaster Relief, and then on your check, if you want that specifically to go to helping folks here in Sevier County, with, uh, fire relief, that can be just degs- designated in the memo line as in fire relief.
Just talk a little bit about, uh… C-could you- ‘Cause you’re not devastated by this and you see this as an opportunity for your church, really, to-to come out of this, uh, in a way that- that’s meaningful for them.
Pete Lamon: Yeah. Th- You know, Banner Church is a church that’s, uh, existed for all these years and- and the whole community has changed around us, an-and we’ve struggled with that over the last few years of trying to, uh, re-establish our identity as a church and a minister, uh, to people in our area, but we realize our whole population has changed, because we’re located right in the center of-of-of thousands of tourists that visit our area, and so we’re… We’ve been trying to focus on ministries that can reach them and help them, uh, while they’re visiting our area. Uh, at the same time, uh, s-sustaining ministry for our-our-our members an-and people who live in the area as well. So it-it-it’s kind of changed. That really changed our identity, which also sets the stage for our facilities in trying to, uh, it changed those and t-to meet the kind of needs that we’re trying to minister to.
Our church is a church, uh, our kind of, uh, uh, theme is, um, uh, we’re [crosstalk] [09:11] uh, a church, uh, w-with- with mountain tradition that ministers to contemporary needs. Uh, we hold true to our mountain traditions, but we realize we have to take them into our modern society and minister to contemporary needs, and so that’s kind of where we are.
Chris Turner: Uh-huh. Uh, it’s a great, great story, as far as the opportunity and just the way the Lord [crosstalk] [09:34], prophetically, really [crosstalk] [09:35] was preparing the congregation to deal with something like that. [crosstalk] [09:38] Uh, certainly, uh, if-if folks out listening, um, want to pray for Banner Baptist [crosstalk] [09:45] Church specifically, uh, and—
Pete Lamon: Yeah. Yeah. Hmm. Absolutely. And the four- And the seven families that have lost everything. Th-that’s our [crosstalk] [09:51] primary concern right now, that, uh, we want to make sure their needs are met.
Chris Turner: Yeah. Yeah, an-and definitely, that’s, uh, you know, if you want to find out specifically where Banner Baptist is, you can Google it and see and get an idea of-of location-wise all that area back up around the mountain from there is-is, uh, where the fire did come down, and a lot of that area back in the hollow and all that was really ravaged. So, uh, thanks so much for taking time to visit with us. Uh, we’ll continue to pray and, uh, look forward to-to one day visiting again when the church has been restored and- [crosstalk] [10:24] and, uh, you guys have your first thing.
Pete Lamon: Mm-hmm.