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First service held at Great Swamp Church

 New pews were installed in the church sanctuary. Photo by Rick Tobin

New pews were installed in the church sanctuary. Photo by Rick Tobin

On Sunday at 11 a.m., members of Great Swamp Baptist Church on Hendersonville Highway (Highway 17-A) just south of Walterboro celebrated their first official service since the building was destroyed by fire.

“I remember it like it happened just yesterday,” said Pastor Jack Padgett, who has been pastor of the church since 1999. “It was Friday the 13th.” The church was struck by lightning during an intense thunderstorm on the night of Friday, May 13, 2011, and was declared a total loss.

Colleton County Fire-Rescue Director Barry McRoy said shortly after the church was destroyed that a neighbor informed him he heard a large boom, which he said sounded like lightning hitting a tree, just before the fire started. The neighbor went outside and saw that the church was on fire.

The call reporting the fire came in to the 911 dispatch center at 10:11 p.m., and arriving firefighters saw that black pressurized smoke was coming from the church’s roof. McRoy noted that this type of smoke indicates that an intense fire is occurring within a structure.

(L to R) Brian and Chad Craven of Walterboro stand with T. C. Williams and Larry Craven from Woodbine, Georgia. The Georgia pair traveled to the Walterboro church to hear Larry’s uncle, Johnny Cranem, sing during the service.

(L to R) Brian and Chad Craven of Walterboro stand with T. C. Williams and Larry Craven from Woodbine, Georgia. The Georgia pair traveled to the Walterboro church to hear Larry’s uncle, Johnny Cranem, sing during the service.

Over 80 firefighters responded to the fire, and it took two hours to get it under control. McRoy said the nearest fire hydrant was more than a mile away from the fire scene, so tender trucks had to constantly haul water to the scene. Firefighters did manage to get six church pews out of the church before being ordered to evacuate. Stained glass windows in the front and north side of the church were also salvaged. A cross from the church’s steeple was also pulled from the rubble, and a podium and chairs from the front of the church were also saved.

Although the intense fire was a traumatic experience for the entire community, through the help of businesses and people within this community, a healing process soon began. “We started clearing the site in the fall of 2011, and, in early 2012, we began the site preparation for a new building.”

On the Sunday after the fire, Padgett addressed his church members in front of the burned-out building that was once his sanctuary. “It’s not the end,” Padgett told the congregation gathered at the church’s picnic area.” It can be fixed. It will be tough, but it can be fixed.” He added that the Sunday gathering was not a worship service, but was a chance for members to vent their feelings.

In April, the volunteers put down the building’s foundation, and, in June, help seemed to be sent from Heaven. “From June 6-14, Carpenters for Christ arrived from Prattville, Alabama. They erected the walls, and wrapped the church in OSB, which is used in the same manner as particle board,” Pastor Padgett said. He added that the members also set all of the roof trusses, sheeted the roof, and then installed the shingles. “The Carpenters for Christ had only required two requirements out of us. They needed a place to spend nights while working on the church and they also needed three meals per day. “They spent their nights in the Colleton County Middle

Pastor Jack Padgett has been at Great Swamp Church since 1999.

Pastor Jack Padgett has been at Great Swamp Church since 1999.

School, and they got their three required meals,” Padgett said.

Terry Hoff of Cottageville was the project’s general contractor. “He was over all of the aspects of building our church, and he met every Monday with the church’s Building Committee to give updates and share information since he started on the project.” Jack said that Hoff did a very good job, and both he and congregation members are thankful for Hoff’s efforts.

Jack noted that the chairs and podium recovered after the fire are still being used in the new sanctuary. He said that the sign on the front of the church that stated “Great Swamp Baptist Church, established 1880,” is also again on the front of the church. Jack added that he is glad that some things from the old structure have been reincorporated into the new church.