Advent candles spark church fire


By Kara Witherow, Editor

Baxley First United Methodist Church was damaged by fire Sunday afternoon, Dec. 15. No injuries were reported.

Church leaders say the fire was an accident that started in the pulpit area where candles on an advent wreath were left burning unattended.

“We’re brokenhearted, but we know that buildings can be replaced,” said Rev. Steve Meguiar, pastor of Baxley First UMC. “We’re very blessed that it was reported as early as it was.”

A passer-by who saw smoke coming from the church called the mayor and first responders.

The Sunday afternoon fire left Baxley First UMC standing, but much of the interior – including a piano, an organ, and projectors – was damaged. A communion table, a nativity set, lights, and flooring were destroyed.

In the midst of the devastation and loss, there have been several miracles. The church’s pulpit Bible, from 1968, somehow survived without a single singe. The new Chrismon tree was also spared. The community and connection’s rapid and overwhelming response has been another miracle, Rev. Meguiar said.

“We just have a wonderful, wonderful community,” he said. “They’ve really been rallying around us.”

Rev. Paula Lewis, superintendent of the South Central District, was in Baxley at the time of the fire and went to pray with Rev. Meguiar and the congregation.

“Even in the midst of tragedy, God is still with us and Christ is still on the throne,” she said.

Sunday morning, the congregation celebrated the Third Sunday of Advent and lit the candle for joy. During a time of prayer, they gave thanks to God for His blessings. Two people offered thanksgiving for the Baxley First UMC sanctuary and Rev. Meguiar gave thanks for first responders.

“We prayed for them that morning and they ended up coming and helping us that afternoon,” he said. “That’s kind of a cool thing.”

The sanctuary was built in 1929. Worship services will be moved to the church’s family life center while repairs are made to the sanctuary.

During this time of Advent, when many congregations use candles, Rev. Lewis and Rev. Meguiar urge everyone to make sure candles are extinguished before leaving. Rev. Lewis also praised Rev. Meguiar and the Baxley First UMC congregation for quickly jumping into action following the fire.

“It’s important for churches to talk about what to do if something like this were to happen,” she said. “Being prepared and being ready to be the Church when tragedy happens is important. They were really great at that yesterday.”

In the midst of their grief, church members are cleaning up and pressing on.

“There’s always hope,” Rev. Meguiar said. “We have a remarkable group of people and church family. Our hearts are broken, but we never give up.”