St. John's Lutheran Church

Conover, North Carolina

St. John's history

Church fire of February 2001

2001 church fire.

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Goodbye Old Friend

Remembering Yet Another Fire at St. John's LCMS
by Randy Baker


It was around 1:15 in the morning, Wednesday, February 21st, 2001 when the phone rang. My wife answered it, but I could hear my mother as clear as if I’d been the one to pick it up. “The church is on fire!” Before she even hung it up, I was putting my clothes on and heading for the door. “Not again,” I thought, “this can’t happen to the same congregation twice. Surely, it can’t be that big and they’ll get it out.” I knew as I traveled up McLin Creek Road that I could see that majestic building standing high above the tree line on a clear day a good two miles away. If it was a bad fire, I’d be able to see it from there, even though it was a pitch dark night. And to my horror, that’s exactly what I saw. “No, no, no!” I screamed as I continued onward toward the blazing inferno.

As I arrived, I was relieved to see that our beautiful sanctuary with its high cathedral ceilings, made of locally cut pine trees by our forefathers over fifty years ago, was not on fire. However, the flames were burning high above the rest of the building. “Stop it guys, you can do it,” I said to myself. Again, I would be proven wrong. By the time the fire was discovered, it was already fully engulfed and there was nothing much that could be done except try and save our new $1.2 million addition that had just been added and scheduled for completion in the next few weeks. It did survive, but with extensive damage. My father had been the overseer of that project and was only eleven when the building had burned to the ground March 17, 1950. He’d also been in charge of opening and closing the building when I was young, and many times I would accompany him on his rounds. His father, stricken with cancer at the time of the first fire, watched it go up from their den window, nearly fifty-one years ago to the day. Would I be the third generation in my family to see the same thing? Sadly, I would.

Before I left the house, I remembered what few pictures we had of the first fire, and how much they had meant to me to help understand the grief and pain they’d gone through the first time. So I grabbed my video-camera, as many others did, before I left and began taping as soon as I arrived. As I made my way around to the front of the building, I found my brother and father who still live in that same house across the street where my grandparents had lived, standing there, watching in disbelief. My mother had gone home to get his glasses he’d left behind in the mad rush to get to the scene. My brother and I exchanged hugs and my father and I exchanged tears. This was devastating to me, but how low could his heart sink after all he’d been through with this new addition? With all that he’d been through with this entire building. Many others would soon be asking me the same question in the hours and days to come. Only time would tell.