Church moves forward despite losing historic building
By David Dawson
Baptist and Reflector
PARROTTSVILLE — When pastor Michael Vickers talks about the fire that ravaged Forest Hills Baptist Church, Parrottsville, he immediately points out one important fact: The fire destroyed the church building; it did not destroy the church.
The fire occurred around 1 a.m. on Jan. 18, and decimated the building that had been standing for more than 100 years. The cause of the fire is still unknown.
Vickers said the Forest Hill members, while certainly saddened about the loss of the facility, are excited about the future.
“We are going to get to rebuild,” said Vickers, “and our plan is to rebuild the church right where the (previous) building was, give or take a little bit. Our church sits on top of a little knob that overlooks the mountains, and it’s just beautiful.”
Vickers said he got a call from the Cocke County deputy around 1:30 in the morning on Jan. 18. Several fire departments, and the Cocke County Sheriff’s Office, were dispatched around that same time.
“The deputy said he got to the church around 1 (a.m.), and the fire was fully engaged at that point,” Vickers said. “They dumped thousands and thousands of pounds of water on it. There were a total of seven fire departments who responded, but they couldn’t get it stopped, and it went to the ground.”
The TBI investigated the fire, Vickers said, looking for possible arson or explosives. The K-9 unit searched the grounds and found no signs of foul play, Vickers said.
Vickers said he thinks it might have been an electrical fire.
“The main part of the building was built in 1906, I believe, and it’s got all different kinds of wiring in it,” he said. “We’ve had to run squirrels out of there before and all sorts of things. So, who knows?”
According to the fire report filed by the Cocke County Sheriff’s Office, the estimated loss of the church is in excess of $200,000, the Newport Plain Talk reported.
“We have about 1,500 square feet to replace,” Vickers said.
Vickers said the church has received an overwhelming amount of support in the days since the fire.
Numerous churches in the area have offered assistance, along with Carson Springs Conference Center and the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board. Vickers said he received a call from TBMB president and executive director Randy C. Davis, with Davis asking what could be done to help.
“We’ve had an outpouring of support,” said Vickers. “It’s been amazing. In fact, I haven’t even been able to respond to all the calls yet.”
Vickers said the church has utilized social media during the early days of the recovery process.
“What we’ve done so far, is when we’ve seen an immediate need, we’ve posted it on Facebook,” he said. “And people have responded and filled that need almost as soon as it was posted.”
Several churches have offered to let the Forest Hills congregation join with them and/or use their facilities. For now, though, the members of Forest Hills are meeting at the church parsonage for worship services. The congregation gathered at the parsonage the Sunday following the fire, and packed the house.
“We usually run about 15 to 25 people on Sunday mornings, but the Sunday after the fire, we had about 35 (attendees),” he said.
Vickers said the church hopes to move into a temporary location in the days ahead.
“We’ve got a community building that is about a quarter-mile away from here, on the edge of our property,” he said. “It’s in disrepair right now, but we plan to fix it up and meet there until we rebuild.”
Vickers’ lost his office — including his large collection of books and “all the trinkets that I’ve gathered through the years” — in the blaze. “Randy Davis offered to refurbish my library, which I really appreciated,” he said.
In the immediate aftermath of the fire, Vickers said he wasn’t sure what the future of the church would be. But he soon found out that a rebuild would be possible.
“We’re very thankful that we carry enough insurance to rebuild,” he said. “I started asking around, ‘how much insurance do we have?’ and no one seemed to know. The only thing we knew was that we sent the check in every month. But thankfully, it turned out to be enough for us to rebuild.”
Despite the devastation caused by the fire, Vickers said he knew the church would continue, one way or another, to reach people for Christ.
“We know a Savior — and the world needs one, now more than ever,” he said. “So, how can you quit?”