Fire destroys Roberts Chapel Church

Published 9:49 pm Thursday, October 30, 2008

PENDLETON – All that’s left are memories.

Members of Roberts Chapel Baptist Church stood in total disbelief in front of their beloved building here Thursday afternoon, watching as memories built since 1927 go up in flames. Some huddled together and cried; others chose silent solitude, perhaps wondering to themselves “where do we go from here.”

“There will be a new church,” John Woodard, Chairman of the Roberts Chapel Board of Deacons, promised as he choked back the tears.

“This is only a building; the real church is its people,” Roberts Chapel member Bobby Joe Edwards said.

Other members recalled fond memories of the church.

“I was three-years-old when it was built,” said life-long Roberts Chapel member Joe Edwards, standing in an empty lot across from the church, one where his grandmother’s home once stood. “I can remember coming down here from across the railroad tracks to watch it being built.”

“I loved this old church,” Gwen Bryant said. “I would have never believed a day like this would come.”

Bryant spoke of a basement towards the rear of the church, recalling a time when it was pre-designated as a bomb shelter during the Cuban missile crisis in the early 1960’s

“When we were younger our parents told us if we heard a siren go off to go running to the church and get in the basement,” Bryant recalled.

Keith Edwards said the church and the community of Pendleton were inseparable.

“The church was where we went for everything…it was the heart and soul of this community,” he said. “This is a small community and this is all we have. When the church doors opened, the people came.”

Woodard echoed those thoughts.

“This is where the community came together,” Woodard noted. “We didn’t have a community building here; we used the church for everything.”

That community spirit was evident with the upkeep of this 81-year-old building.

“It was matter of pride…pride in our church,” Woodard said. “Our attendance may have dwindled over the years, but the church was never neglected. It was in tip-top, A-1 condition until today.”

Woodard, whose wife Sandra has played the church organ since she was just a young girl (beginning at age 12), said Roberts Chapel Church traced its Baptist heritage to 1848. The original church once stood south of Pendleton before that was destroyed by fire.

While stunned church members and others could only watch, firefighters from at least six departments battled the blaze.

A full report is pending from Severn Fire Chief Dennis Woodard, but it appears the brunt of the damage was in the main sanctuary. Other portions of the church, including its history room, were also damaged.

Early reports said that smoke was seen billowing from both ends of the sanctuary, the heaviest coming from the back side, sometimes around 1-1:30 p.m. That smoke could be seen from as far away as Jackson and Murfreesboro.

If there was one silver lining, the wind direction pushed the smoke and hot embers away from homes lining both sides of the street near the church.

The Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald will have more information concerning the cause of the fire and future plans of church members in an upcoming edition.