(Posted July 8, 2020)
By Theresa Hennis, Staff Writer
The beginning of a story is not always where the story truly begins. Sometimes, the ending signifies a chance to begin anew.
The 159-year-old history of Big Darby Baptist Church seemingly came to an end on July 2 when a fire ravaged the Plain City landmark.
Yet three days later, Emmit Green, in his first Sunday service as the church’s pastor, spoke about his hope for the future. Congregation members listened from folding chairs set up on the basketball court next to where the church once stood.
Green pointed to the still-standing original bell that had been removed from the steeple in the 1990s for safety reasons and set atop a brick base in front of the church. The rubble around the bell in the wake of the fire was a disheartening sight.
“Could God have stopped that fire?” Green asked the congregation. “Yes. Did it catch him off guard? No. Why do you think he left us that victory bell? Ring it!”
A congregant ran to the bell and did just that. The sound brought smiles to the faces of those gathered.
“This is a painful circumstance we’re experiencing,” Green said. “But it’s just a small part of the chapter of the congregation. It’s not the whole story. When God moves, it’s supernatural. This is his story. There is a time for mourning, and it’s OK to be sad. But you cannot allow the mourning to consume you.”
Big Darby Baptist Church was built in 1861. The congregation was first organized in 1810, making it the second oldest congregation in Plain City. Through the years, church members met in various locations, including a small frame building that sat at the current site, 6921 Plain City Georgesville Rd., before the iconic church was built.
“I think this tragedy drives home the importance of preserving and taking care of our historic buildings. This represents a huge loss to the congregation, as well as to the community,” said Rosemary Anderson, vice president of the Plain City Historical Society.
Capt. Sam Parsons of the Pleasant Valley Joint Fire District said a call about the fire came in at 4:38 a.m. July 2. Units were on the scene at 4:47. Twelve departments from Madison, Union, Champaign and Franklin counties responded to the fire. An investigation is under way to determine the cause.
The fire that consumed Big Darby Baptist Church is not the end of the story. Members–described as “the little congregation with a big heart”–plan to work together and, with God’s help, bring beauty from the ashes.