HANNIBAL – A fire that ravaged Antioch Baptist Church here, Dec. 20, devastated its members only a few days before Christmas. But despite the church’s loss, Pastor Jack Emmite – acknowledging the emotional ties with the ruined building – was resolute in his hope for the future.
“We are going to move forward. We will rebuild,” Emmite, pastor of the church for almost 25 years, said the day after the fire.
There were no known injuries or fatalities.
As of Dec. 21, plans for where the congregation would hold its Christmas services were incomplete, although other area churches, a funeral home and Hannibal-LaGrange University had all offered facilities. A home meeting with some church members was scheduled for the evening of Dec. 21.
“We are so grateful for the godly folks who have offered prayers, encouragement, and facilities,” Emmite said.
A Missouri state fire marshal and a deputy sheriff were on scene Dec. 21, although they had not yet determined the cause of the fire. Nevertheless, Emmite said that the fire appears to have started in the back of the church, where part of a wall collapsed onto a nearby cemetery, breaking at least one tombstone.
The church serves some 70 members, and many of them were at the scene of the fire on Dec. 21 to comfort each other and take pictures.
Emmite recalled members having had baptisms, weddings and other events in the church, which was established in 1870.
“There were a lot of tears,” he said. “Some had grown up in here and live close by. Even non-members who used to be here came out and offered encouragement. People were heartbroken.”
“We say it’s just a building, now we have to prove it,” said Deacon Don White.
Emmite concurred: “The community will be watching us.”
The pastor, in addition to talking with deacons and other church members, was also going to “pick the brains” of people at another area Baptist church that rebuilt after a fire and at another one that rebuilt after a tornado.
Emmite had conducted hospital chaplain visits earlier Tuesday, Dec. 20, and came to the church about 2 p.m. to check the mail. He left a few minutes later and locked the door. A neighbor who called 911 also called Emmite to tell him of the fire, which was reported mid-afternoon Tuesday. The fire soon engulfed the church’s structure and roof, which eventually collapsed into the sanctuary and then the basement. Another fire occurred in the church about 10 years ago, stemming from a propane leak that caused mainly smoke damage and burned a little carpet on some stairs.
“No matter what. We still give praise to our Lord,” Emmite said, adding, “We covet the prayers of Missouri Baptists.”