Skip to comments.Trinity Presbyterian Church catches fire Saturday in Opelika
Posted on 07/14/2013 8:31:11 AM PDT by Alex Murphy
Editor's note: On Sunday morning, officials with the fire department confirmed that the sanctuary was actually spared.
The bells at Trinity Presbyterian Church will not toll this morning as flames engulfed the historic church Saturday night after a fire spread from the attic and brought the roof down.
Capt. Scott McBurney of the Opelika Fire Department said he believed the church was struck by lightning. McBurney, who lives near Trinity, said he heard thunder and then a pop an hour before the station received a call at approximately 6:46 p.m.
"We were on the scene in three minutes," McBurney said. "Smoke was visible at the roof ridge, and flames were coming out. The fire had already spread through the attic. Once a fire is in the attic, it spreads fast. Theres nothing up there to stop it. No sheet rock, just rafters up there."
Fat fire hoses were scattered on the ground at Trinitys entranceway, and ladders were being toted to the back of the church. Ladder 317 was stretched toward the top of the church steeple, the water in full force. Deep fire engine tire tracks could be seen in the grass directly in front of the church entrance.
Assistant Fire Chief Jaime Baca said the fire started in the back of the church, in the attic area.
"There has not been something big like this since the mill fire," Baca said, referring to the March 12 fire which razed the former Pepperell Mill.
Neighbors were lined up and down India Road Saturday night where black billowing smoke could be seen for miles. Trinitys majestic white steeple was slumped in half and smudged in black. McBurney said the sanctuary was gone as the roof had collapsed in. But Trinitys privately-run school is still standing with no apparent damage.
"The kids can count on school this fall," lifetime church member Larry Humphrey said. "Itll be cleaned up by then, dont worry."
Two men could be seen huddled together, their heads bowed in prayer as flames shot as tall as the trees around Trinity.
Pastor Chris Duncan said the church, which was built at its present location in 1973, was celebrating its 40th anniversary. Duncan stood helplessly watching his beloved church burn in front of him, but he was noticeably calm.
"I have no doubt this will bring us closer together; this church is much bigger than a building," Duncan said.
"The church is not about a building, its about the people," Humphrey said. "Theres nothing special about a building, the special part is the people in it."
While the building can be replaced, certain mementos cannot.
"Thats my office burning, where that flame is," Duncan said. "All my correspondence over the years is in there. Antique books from the 19th century cannot be replaced; I guess I dont need them anymore."
Two weeks ago, Duncan said he preached about Lazarus - how human problems are never as big as they seem.
McBurney said he could recall houses being struck by lightning, but never a church in Opelika.
A fireman wearing a gray shirt with the words Opelika Fire Department on the back could be seen on top of engine truck 316 tightly gripping a heavy hose pointed directly at the church frontage.
While the brick foundation is still standing, the rest of the church is charred. Debris could be seen on the ground covered in small flames. Windows could be seen broken but the glass enclosed church entrance was still intact. The chandelier inside its entryway sparkled from the windows.
Humphreys son, Michael, 17, attends Trinity School and will be going into the 11th grade.
"Its a terrible thing that has happened, but everything will be fine," Michael said. "This is not in our control, God does these things for a reason. This is where faith comes in. The only thing we can do is respond to it and carry on from here."
Duncan said church services will be at the regular time at 10 a.m. and will be held at EAMC Health Resource Center on Opelika Road where Mr. Js Steakhouse once stood.
Pastor Chris Duncan said the church, which was built at its present location in 1973, was celebrating its 40th anniversary. Duncan stood helplessly watching his beloved church burn in front of him, but he was noticeably calm...."The church is not about a building, its about the people," Humphrey said. "Theres nothing special about a building, the special part is the people in it." While the building can be replaced, certain mementos cannot. "Thats my office burning, where that flame is," Duncan said. "All my correspondence over the years is in there. Antique books from the 19th century cannot be replaced; I guess I dont need them anymore"....
[Church member Larry Humphrey]'s son, Michael, 17, attends Trinity School and will be going into the 11th grade. "Its a terrible thing that has happened, but everything will be fine," Michael said. "This is not in our control, God does these things for a reason. This is where faith comes in. The only thing we can do is respond to it and carry on from here."
From another article on the fire:
» Trinity Presbyterian Church in Opelika was first organized on Dec. 15, 1866 under the sponsorship of the East Alabama Presbytery, a commission from New Harmony Presbyterian Church near Waverly.
» In 1871, the church moved to the corner of Calhoun and Tallapoosa Streets, now called Second Avenue and North Ninth Street. In 1973, the church moved to its current location on India Road.
» Rev. Claudius Augustus Baker was selected as the churchs first pastor in 1871. The current pastor is Chris Duncan, who has been at Trinity since 2000.
» In 1973, the church congregation voted to change its affiliation to the Presbyterian Church of America. By 1974, the church was named Trinity Presbyterian Church.
» In 1978, the church founded Trinity Christian School, the areas only classical Christian academy and Covenant University Fellowship in 1982 at Auburn University, now called Reformed University Fellowship. A high school was added in 2001.
» In December 2005, the church added eight classrooms and a science lab to the school. In September 2007, Trinity dedicated a new parking lot, computer lab, soccer facility and playground. In August 2009, the church consecrated a new sanctuary and choral addition, as well as new office facilities in 2011.
OUCH! I sure hope they have insurance and that it was not arson!!
If it had been arson, the lower half of the building is what would have burned. This was lightning, plain and simple. There are lots of fires caused by lightning strikes every year, they just don't make the news.
I should have said what burned first was what was struck by lightning. Looks like the steeple was hit, and is mostly gone, while the rest is still fully engulfed. Also, there was a storm going on at the time, with lightning striking, and a witness in the story mentioned hearing the pop when it hit.
I wonder what country this is in.
How horribly sad yet it is a reminder to all of us how things in this world just come and go...including us. This pastor seems to have his thoughts correct through this tragedy. May God offer them His grace and comfort as they rebuild.
Thank you for the ping. And, I’ve pinged the “Alabama” as well.
I have two home churches. This is one of the two. I had not seen the latest update that the sanctuary was spared. I am rejoicing over that and I will be extremely happy to tell my youngest daughter the good news. She was married there; the next-to-last bride to walk down that aisle. I pray that many more happy unions will be able to happen.
Trinity is a very fundamental, STRONG, church. It is sad because I found the design of Trinity to be calming and emotionally directing of my heart away from earthly matters to the sublime. However, as I know the members of the church, this is a sorrow, but not a defeat. My oldest daughter attends regularly and she attended the worship service on the Sunday morning (it is now Monday where I am and so my time references can be confusing). She said the mood was mixed, upbeat and glorifying but still a lot of shock and surprise.
It was almost definitely lightning. The fire started in the attic or the steeple and spread from that point. A storm had passed through the area and the fire was discovered about an hour after a close by strike was heard. At present I don’t know about insurance, but we’re Presbyterians! I am positive there is insurance.
Thank you for the ping. I’ll hunt up some pictures of the wedding that show the interior.
Thank you for your words of comfort. I can assure you Chris does have his thoughts on God. I can’t wait to download, if I can, the sermon from Sunday.
As you can see, the sanctuary is simple and elegant. I tried to choose pictures that gave you an overal impression, most of mine feature the bride and not much of the church. Imagine that! The last is an outdoor shot of the groomsmen praying together before the wedding. The pictures were taken December 30, 2011. And yes, the groom and his men are all in the Army AND they all are Christian. I think all have served at least one deployment in the Gulf. My son is on his third. The groom is currently deployed in South Korea.
Y’all know I have two main home churches. This is one of the two.
Knowing you and your family, Jem , I agree with Mr. Humphrey. Special, indeed.
Thank you. The good news is that, apparently, the sanctuary was spared. When people entered the building on Sunday, the pews were there, the chandeliers were untouched and the walls were even still white (actually a very light blue-gray). There was a metal under-roof thingee above the ceiling separating the sanctuary from the attic. That was the mechanism by which God spared the sanctuary. The church office, library and pastor’s studies are all lost, however.