WILLIAMSBURG COUNTY, S.C. (WCSC) - One of the oldest churches in Williamsburg County is gone.
The Bethlehem Baptist Church in Salters was destroyed by an early morning fire and nothing but a few walls remain.
“Everything is gone,” parishioner James Boykin said after seeing the devastation for the first time. “We ain’t got no pews. We ain’t got no cross. It’s like everything’s gone.”
Crews got the call around 4:30 Tuesday morning, but by that time it was too late to save the church, according to William Horton, the Williamsburg County fire captain.
“I could see it from Kingstree, and we were four miles out,” Horton said. “When I arrived on scene, the church was involved. It was flames coming out of all parts of the roof.”
It then took hours to get it under control.
The nearest fire hydrant is three miles away, so more than 15 trucks from four departments had to bring water back and forth.
The church’s pastor, Otis Prioleau, said nothing inside could be salvaged.
But outside, part of a cross still stands.
“As I was driving up to the church, I was already in prayer mode, already knowing the church was on fire,” Prioleau said. “My whole thought was, ‘Lord, give me direction on what to say, what to do.’ I didn’t really have my own thoughts at that time.”
The church, which just got brand new windows and a new vestibule within the last year, now sits full of ash, but that’s not going to stop services.
“We are in the soul-saving business,” Prioleau said. “Soul saving has nothing to do with brick and mortar. So, the church is going to go on. God’s church was operating before this church was built, and it’s going to continue to do the same.”
The pastor plans to hold a service on Sunday morning. The exact time is still being worked out. A meeting for the congregation is being held Wednesday night to discuss what’s next.
“The message is we’re going to move forward. God is still in charge, and he’s still operating,” Prioleau said. “We’re gonna be okay.”
The cause of the fire is still unknown.
ATF, SLED, and the county are all continuing to investigate. They were on the scene for more than 12 hours on Tuesday.
“I know they have a tight congregation here, and I hate it for them,” Horton said. “But, everyone is like a phoenix, they’ll rise from the ashes and do their thing again.”