Firestorm of Faith

Published 10:01 am Thursday, August 3, 2017

TYNER – It’s been said that God will never place a burden on an individual that’s too heavy to carry.

If that’s the case, then Pastor William “Buck” Leary and his family possess extremely strong shoulders as their faith in their maker is powerful.

During last Friday’s round of wicked weather that impacted most all of northeastern North Carolina – to include heavy rain and the threat of tornadoes – a bolt of lightning struck the parsonage of Chappell Hill Baptist Church in northern Perquimans County. Buck Leary serves as the Pastor of that church.

Buck & Pam Leary

“Ashlyn (his 16-year-old daughter) and I were in Elizabeth City at that time, doing volunteer work with the Food Bank of the Albemarle,” said Leary, a native of Bertie County who later graduated from Hertford County High School (Class of 1996).

“One of the gentlemen with us there, Jamie Stallings, with the Belvidere/Chappell Hill Volunteer Fire Department, received a text message a few minutes before 3 p.m. that day about a structure fire in their district,” Leary continued. “We learned about 10 minutes later that it was the church parsonage on fire.”

It appears that the bolt of lightning struck the ground near the parsonage….close enough to spark a fire underneath the residence. The church, located next door, was not affected.

“We’re guessing that it smoldered a bit before getting hot enough to turn into a significant fire,” Leary remarked. “It was significant enough to have both the (town of) Hertford Fire Department and Winfall Fire Department to join our local firemen in putting the fire out.”

The frame of the residence is still standing, but the blaze gutted the interior.

“We lost about 80-to-90 percent of our belongings,” Leary said. “What was lost was about 20 years worth of great memories, but that’s just stuff. My family (to include wife, Pam, and 10-year-old daughter Courtney) is safe and that’s all that counts.”

No member of the family was at the parsonage at the time of the fire.

Pastor Leary has been in the ministry for 20 years, the last five at Chappell Hill Baptist.

“Help for my family has come from so many different churches, from many different places, including as far away as Florida and Texas,” Leary shared. “It’s been a blessing; Webster’s dictionary doesn’t have enough words to describe how we feel.”

Ashlyn Leary posted this message on her Facebook page on July 28:

“So hard to see your own house burned. Something like that you don’t expect to happen to yourself. God has plans for everything and everything happens for a reason. God was surely with us today and kept us safe. Thank God none of us were home. The Lord gives and the Lord takes away.

Courtney & Ashlyn Leary

“I never knew what so many people go through until today. Thank you Lord for showing me that stuff and the things of this world are temporary. Lord show me the way and give me the strength to help people through situations in times like these, and to not think of myself and helping others more,” her post concluded.

Buck Leary said the outpouring of love and support in the aftermath of the fire has been nothing short of amazing. He said on Friday afternoon alone there were at least four pastors, joined by members of their respective congregations, gathered on the front lawn of the parsonage.

“What we lost, God has already restored that through his followers,” Pastor Leary stressed. “What has emerged from this is the greatest display of unity in a community. The Kingdom of God came together and helped. If it took a fire for that to happen, then so be it. A much greater fire has been ignited within the hearts and souls of those here in our community and beyond.”

While Chappell Hill Baptist Church officials ponder their next steps in replacing the parsonage, the Leary family is residing at a residence in the Bal Gra community.

“Randy Hughes has a home at Bal Gra and is letting us stay there right now,” Leary said. “He opens his home for missionaries to stay as they travel through our area and we hold baptisms there. He gave me the key and welcomed us in.”

Meanwhile, money was collected immediately and given to the family.

“All we had at that time were the clothes on our backs,” Leary said. “We used that money to go and shop for the simple necessities.

“Donations of clothing are still coming in; so much to the point where we need to find other families in need of clothing,” he concluded.

As of Tuesday, a GoFundMe account online, established by Rev. Leary’s sister Mamie Chamblee, had raised over $4,000 for the displaced family.

About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

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