Nova Scotia

North Preston church damaged in fire a 'home away from home'

A North Preston, N.S., church that has been the centre of community life for a century was damaged by fire Wednesday in a blaze that left parishioners reeling but also relieved that no one was hurt.

'I'm so sad I want to cry. I just feel so down to see this big, beautiful building go down,' says churchgoer

Passersby watch as firefighters continue to monitor the church fire. (Paul Palmeter/CBC)

A North Preston, N.S., church that has been the centre of community life for a century was damaged by fire Wednesday in a blaze that left parishioners reeling but also relieved that no one was hurt.

Halifax firefighters were called to St. Thomas United Baptist Church on Simmonds Road at 9:39 a.m. The fire was burning in the walls and by mid-morning crews were still putting out hot spots in the attic.

"Everybody's hurt. Our forefathers built this church," said Viola Cain, a member of the congregation who was one of the first people to arrive on scene.

"I broke every record when I saw the smoke come from the church."

She said the church custodian, Andrew Downey, and his grandson were inside the building when the boy smelled smoke. The alarms went off and both made it out unharmed.

It took a few hours to put out the fire. (Paul Palmeter/CBC)

Church the 'centre' of the community

A group of parishioners and passersby gathered outside Wednesday morning as firefighters put out the blaze.

"I'm so sad I want to cry. I just feel so down to see this big, beautiful building go down. We come here to worship, to fellowship. It's our home away from home," said churchgoer Vivian Cain.

"I'm very upset, matter of fact, the whole community's upset. The church is the centre of the community."

Vivian Cain said the church is the centre of the community in North Preston. (Paul Palmeter/CBC)

Immediate offers of help poured in from nearby churches. In a Facebook post, Rev. Kirby Spivey, the pastor of New Beginnings Ministries in Cherry Brook, offered their sanctuary and any other space to St. Thomas's pastor, Rev. Wallace Smith, and his congregation.  

"New Beginnings and I stand ready to your aid," Spivey wrote.

Rev. LeQuita Porter, pastor of East Preston United Baptist Church, also wrote in a Facebook post that her church will help in whatever way it can.

"Our prayers are already going up," Porter wrote.

Despite the fire, the church's Sunday worship service will still take place at 3 p.m., but across the street at the North Preston Community Centre, Smith confirmed through a family member. The healing service, where everyone dresses in white, was planned well before the fire. 

According to an archived version of the church's website, the building was erected in 1917, renovated in the 1950s and twice again during the 1970s. 

'We trust in the Lord'

Its "grandest" makeover was completed in June 2006, according to the website, giving the church enough room for 1,000 people.

Deacon Randy Downey said when he heard the sirens he followed them to the church. (Paul Palmeter/CBC)

There's no word yet on the cause of the fire or where it started in the church.

"I'm glad that no one was in there," said Randy Downey, a deacon at the church. "You know, you can always replace the church but you can't replace a person.

"We trust in the Lord, that's what we do, we trust in the Lord."

Firefighters were on scene of a fire at a church in North Preston Wednesday morning. (Paul Palmeter/CBC)

With files from Paul Palmeter, Sherri Borden Colley

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