LEBANON, Va. (Jan. 26, 2017) -- Wilma Kiser could just look out her back door and see the church where she spent part of her childhood.
She could see it until a few days before Christmas 2016, when her church burned to the ground.
Dec. 19 was “a very sad day,” Kiser says. She and the entire congregation of 10 people gathered at Bascom United Methodist Church and watched as firefighters tried to save the building.
“It didn’t take long for it to start crumbling,” Kiser said. “We just stood there and talked and shared memories.”
The Rev. Daniel Garrett had finished his day’s work and was relaxing at home about 4:15 p.m. when a church member called: A fire at Bascom had been reported on the scanner. Garrett immediately went to the site at 6046 Green Valley Road.
“I got there about 5 p.m., and the church was engulfed in flames. It was just lumber and logs. There was no stopping it,” said Garrett.
Investigators have not determined the cause. Kiser says the “hot spot” was identified in the sanctuary’s ceiling.
“A squirrel or mouse could have got in there and chewed a wire,” she says of the 55-year-old building.
Kiser remembers when her mother let her walk to Vacation Bible School. She remembers her wedding and how much she looked forward to church picnics. “It was a wonderful place to go,” she says.
Almost everything burned with the church, says Garrett, including the hymnals, Bibles, communion set, copier, and printer. “It got so hot, it just melted everything.”
However, Kiser still has the history that was compiled for the church’s centennial celebration in 1996. The church is now 120 years old.
On March 7, 1896, Henry Bascom Ferguson and his wife Ella Lynch Ferguson deeded land to the Methodist Episcopal Church South, for the purpose of building a church, the history states.
There was no money involved in the transaction, according to the deed. The land was deeded in consideration for the love and respect Henry Bascom and Ella had for the Methodist Episcopal Church South, and possibly due to Henry Bascom attending Emory & Henry College.
Bascom’s father, Anthony Ferguson, donated the timber. Bascom’s four brothers built the church. The church was dedicated and named after Bascom in 1902. He was the first Sunday School Superintendent, and served until his death on June 18, 1905, according to the church history.
The congregation bought its current property, built a new church and relocated there in 1960.
Since the fire, the Bascom congregation has worshiped at 9:15 a.m. Sunday at Willis Chapel, about five miles away.
The Rev. Sandra Johnson, Abingdon District superintendent, joined the Bascom members as the church burned into the night on Dec. 19.
“No lives were lost but lives were impacted,” she said. “Six of us gathered in the glow of the fire, held hands and prayed. We gave thanks for safety, for the first responders, for the spiritual beacon of light Bascom UMC provided to the surrounding community.”
Garrett and Kiser said they don’t know what the future holds, but the congregation hopes to rebuild.
“I know we will never be able to put back what we had, but we hope we can get something up so that we can go there on Sundays,” said Kiser, who attends church with her husband, grown children, grandson, father, and sister’s family.
“To sit there and watch your church burn and have the church members standing there and looking at you – there’s an overwhelming sense of helplessness,” Garrett said. “But somebody has to be strong, so maybe that’s why God called me to be here for them.”
After the investigations and insurance follow-ups, Johnson said that church leaders will have a series of meetings to decide the “next steps”: church conference, Abingdon District Board of Church Building and Location, district trustees, perhaps others.
In the meantime, the congregation needs time to grieve, followed by a service of celebration and remembrance.
“Somewhere in the midst of the grief we will remember those special services and events that took place within the walls of the former Bascom church facility,” Johnson said. “We will share stories of weddings, baptisms, life transformations. We give the Lord thanks for the ministry of Bascom UMC.”
Annette Spence is editor of The Call, the Holston Conference newspaper.