Odessans Keep the Faith When Church Burns Down

Nick Lawton
NewsWest 9

ODESSA - Just after 9 p.m. Wednesday night, the 400-500 members of St. James Baptist Church were forced to watch as their spiritual home, which stood since 1968, burned to the ground.

On Thursday, they were forced to stand on the side, watching fire investigators comb through the wreckage, trying to find answers.

"I knew that history was being destroyed," church member, Mari Willis, said. "I married about 27 years ago, Reverend McNeil married my husband and I. Raised two children here."

But still, they're thankful no one was lost in the blaze.

"Just thank God there wasn't nobody in the building," St. James Deacon, Kirk Willis, said. "Nobody got killed or anything because we was worshipping here up on Wednesday night just before it happened."

"We left about between a quarter until nine and nine. I got the call about 9:30. I saw the flames. I saw it fall. It was hard," St. James Pastor, Roger McNeil, said.

Fire crews believe so far that the fire was electrical and started at the back of the church where the pastor's office and electric room neighbor each other.

The fire spread by traveling up through the attic, in the crawl space between the old flat roof and the new arched one.

Firefighters still do not have a final, definitive cause for the fire.

While no damage reports have come out, the church is a total loss of more than tens of thousands of dollars.

The church had just put in 37 new pews last year.

"The pews were, as well as all the other, we spent about $50,000," McNeil said. "We just put in these windows."

No matter what, the church's pastor of 30 years said their faith is unbowed.

"The reward will come after, on the other side, through," McNeil said.

The picture they want to paint for their neighborhood is one of strength and faith, standing together.

"St. James Baptist Church building has fallen. St. James Baptist Church is still standing because it stands in each member," Mari Willis said.

Their services will continue this Sunday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., at the Blackshear Elementary School auditorium.

The church hasn't set up a fund yet but they could use any donation of any sort of sound system, a piano or an organ for their new temporary place of worship.

If you'd like to help them, the phone number to call is for Kirk Willis at (432) 770-2386 or his home number is (432) 335-0224.