NORTH PRESTON, N.S. — Members of a historic church just east of Halifax will soon work out a plan to return to the building after a fire tore through the upper reaches of what was a beloved gathering spot for many in the community, its pastor said Wednesday.
Rev. Wallace Smith of St. Thomas Baptist Church in North Preston, N.S., said he's awaiting a report from an insurance inspector on the extent of the damage at what's been a popular spiritual and social home for the predominantly black community since the church was founded over 160 years ago.
Smith said Thursday that he and other church leaders will need further information to determine when and how they can return to the site.
"We have not lost our focus as Christians. We're still looking forward to some time in the very near future, going back inside and worshiping," said Smith.
"We're meeting tonight and we'll decide after this what our plans are for moving forward as to where we will worship at and what we will do in the future."
No one was hurt in the accidental blaze, but the rear of the wooden building was left with a gaping, charred hole that reaches the peak of the roof.
Matt Covey, a fire prevention official with the Halifax fire department, said it appears the fire originated in a malfunctioning heat recovery ventilation unit, either from heat it was generating or in the overheating of wiring related to the equipment.
"A breaker panel won't always protect you from a malfunctioning device," Covey said, adding that by the time power shuts off excessive heat can be generated either in the unit or in wiring.
As fire investigators and insurance adjusters complete their work, Smith said he already has a sermon prepared for a special service Sunday. He said a previously planned service on the theme of community healing will go ahead at the nearby community centre at 3 p.m.
"We're praying, and still believing and trusting in God in what is ... a grieving time for us. We're still moving forward," said Smith.
The pastor said on some Sundays, his church receives as many as 600 people and has a choir of about 30 people.
Allister Johnson, a licensed minister who has written a book about the history of the church, said the building has never had a fire before.
Although there were major renovations completed in 2006, "there's no indication there's ever a Sunday where there wasn't a church service," since the founding in 1856.
Johnson said the church has been the cornerstone of the black Baptist community — which currently has about 4,000 residents — since the settlement began.
"It's been ingrained in people for generations upon generations," he said. "No matter where they're living in Canada ... some will even have the bodies transported back home for the funeral."
Johnson said with such deep historical roots, it's essential to find a way to restore the building.
"We are in this predicament and God will bring us through it," he said.
Michael Tutton, The Canadian Press