TEMPERANCE — A day after its church burned to the ground, the congregation of BridgePoint Church gathered Sunday in Bedford High School for its regular worship.
Preaching before nearly 500 people from the stage of the auditorium, Pastor Craig Killinen said the fire destroyed the congregation’s physical church but that its spiritual strength continues to remain strong.
“The leadership of BridgePoint has decided we will not stop being this church,” he said. “We will continue to be a church wherever we are.”
No one was in the church when a passer-by reported the fire to authorities about 2:45 p.m. Saturday.
Bedford Township Fire Chief Adam Massingill said the first firefighters to arrive got inside the sanctuary but retreated after the structure became fully engulfed in flames.
“The conditions rapidly deteriorated at that point and firefighters were pulled off the fire inside to begin a defensive strategy,” said Chief Massingill, who was hired by the township on Feb. 9 and took over duties last week.
The fire quickly spread to classrooms, the children’s day care, and the gymnasium, he said.
Chief Massingill said investigators from the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office, Michigan State Police, and federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives were combing ashes Sunday to determine the cause of the blaze.
IN PICTURES: Church worships Sunday after fire
“They are actively working the scene. We probably won’t have an update from the investigators for a couple days,” he said. “My guess is that it will be a number of days before the investigators can get any kind of idea where the fire started.”
About 100 firefighters from mostly volunteer fire departments from Monroe and Lenawee counties responded to the fire. Crews from municipalities including Erie, Ida, Monroe, Whiteford, Summerfield, and Riga townships, and Ottawa Lake, Morin Point, and Deerfield assisted Bedford Township.
Chief Massingill said firefighters began clearing the scene about 12:30 a.m. Sunday while Bedford Township crews remained to throw water on hot spots that popped up overnight.
Attending Sunday’s services at the high school were Bill and Tammy Priest of Lambertville.
The Baptist church on Lewis Avenue north of Temperance has been integral to the couple for nearly 50 years. It is where they met and got married. Their children were baptized in BridgePoint.
Mrs. Priest said the sanctuary has created life-lasting memories for her family.
“But we will make new memories in another location,” she said.
“But it’s only a building,” Mr. Priest added. “The church is the people who belong there, not the building.”
Chuck Estep, a church elder, said he has received emails and phone calls offering help from congregations from throughout the area, including Toledo and Bedford Township.
“We can’t but help feel supported,” he said. “It’s really incredible to see when a crisis like that attacks us we have more in common than we have in difference.”
Contact Mark Reiter at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6199.
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