Woodlawn Baptist Church is not a new fixture for Harrison County. It's had a presence in the community since 1850, when 13 charter members established Bethesda Baptist and began holding worship services. Over 160 years later, the name and location have changed, but the commitment's still the same, says Bill Westmoreland, who's been an active member for 79 years. "This is always the focal point, the focal point of the community, I'd say," he said.
However, Wednesday night, Westmoreland got a phone call from the fire department, where he serves as a volunteer, sending him to the church for a very different reason...to help save it. "This is about the fourth of the biggest fires I've been involved in. It's tough," he said.
After battling the blaze with the help of several nearby volunteer departments and the Marshall Fire Department, firefighters saved the sanctuary. The fellowship hall, however, was destroyed. "They're devastated with it, you know. You always see it on TV and that it happened to somebody else and whenever it happens to you, it's just surreal," said Beje Foster, who's been going to Woodlawn Baptist for three years.
Fire Marshal Thomas Mock said a mechanical problem with the water heater is to blame for the blaze. Church members say service will go on as scheduled Sunday...and they're vowing to rebuild.