From the ashes, rebirth for Sedley church

Published 10:57 am Friday, December 23, 2011

By Merle Monahan/Contributing Writer

Elder Randolph Warren, pastor of St. Paul Holiness Church in Sedley, will welcome congregants to the church’s new 9,500-square-foot building on Sunday, Jan. 1. St. Paul’s former building burned in July 2009. -- Merle Monahan | TIDEWATER NEWS

SEDLEY—When a lightning strike ignited St. Paul Holiness Church in Sedley on July 17, 2009, the church burned to the ground before firefighters even had a chance.

Although members were devastated, they vowed to rebuild.

They have done just that.

On Jan. 1, they will move into a new brick, 9,500-square-foot building on the Sycamore Avenue site of the burned church. It was built in just under two years.

“It’s wonderful,” said St. Paul’s pastor, Elder Randolph Warren. “We praise God for giving us this new place to worship Him.”

Despite the 2009 fire, the congregation never missed a service.

“While the church was burning, a young man walked up to me and told me that his grandfather owned a vacant church building on Maple Avenue in Sedley that we could use.

“Our church burned on a Friday, and the following Sunday, we had services in this little cinderblock church. We’ve been there ever since. ”

St. Paul Holiness Church was started in 1906 under a brush arbor on Sycamore Avenue by Elder Garfield Ricks. After two years, Ricks officially established the church and members began meeting at Sister Pat Ricks’ home.

The first church building was built from a disassembled building donated to and rebuilt by the members. It soon became too small for the growing membership, so an acre of land was donated by Brother Percy and Sister Estelle Butts for a new church. Built in 1917, this church was used until 1976, when a new church was built about a half mile down Sycamore Avenue. The acre lot on which the first church sat is now used as a church cemetery.

A frame church built on 2.25 acres donated by Deacon Sylvester and Sister Blanch Warren was the one that burned in 2009.

“We had just completed renovating the building, with a new fellowship hall, new classrooms, restrooms, offices and a pastor’s study,” said Elder James Warren of Ivor, a carpenter and church member who donated his services.

“I just couldn‘t believe it when I got the word,” he said. “A friend and I jumped in my truck and raced over to Sedley. The whole back portion of the church was already gone.”

Pastor Warren’s wife, Renee, said she was attending a sewing class in Franklin when she heard the news.

“A friend called me,” she said. “It was devastating. It felt like someone had died.”

Church assistant clerk Stella Reese said her daughter called her from her hairdresser’s.

“I was so upset, “she said. “All I could think of was that we had worked so hard to enlarge our church, and now it was all gone.”

Reese quickly joined her friends in the belief that the church could be rebuilt. The new church will be dedicated in early January.

Built at a cost of $1.2 million, the church contains a fellowship hall, administrative offices, a pastor’s study, additional restrooms and classrooms, and a sanctuary that seats 268.

It is not quite complete, said the pastor. A few minor things remain to be done on the building, and landscaping is not quite finished, but it will be occupied by Jan. 1.

Donations from friends in the form of money and labor and pledges from members will cover the costs of building, said Warren.

During its 106-year history, St. Paul Church has consistently averaged 50 to 75 members. It has had only four pastors.

“We now have a large debt,” the pastor said, “but we love our church and we will pay it off. God will carry us through.”