It’s been one trial after another for the 40 or so members of the First Pentecostal Apostolic Mission, a historic Browns Mills, Burlington County, church whose picturesque white steeple was erected more than a century ago.
First, a car slammed into the side of the clapboard building, which hugs the corner of Trenton and Pemberton Browns Mills Roads. Then, it happened again, a couple years later. This year, even after repairs, COVID-19 prevented many from attending weekly services. And finally, on Wednesday, a 2½-alarm blaze ripped through the church building.
Sharon Thompson, the pastor’s wife, said congregants were grieving this latest blow, so close to Christmas. But they were grateful for the offer from Pemberton Township Mayor David Patriarca to use a recreational building as a temporary sanctuary. Patriarca did not return a message Friday.
“They’re shocked but thankful that we were not in the building, that God is still moving and that this, too, shall pass,” Thompson said.
Thompson said she was not sure how extensive the damage was. She said she was told the cause of the fire was still under investigation. Neither the Burlington County fire marshal nor Pemberton Township fire chief returned phone calls on Friday.
Her phone was flooded with mournful text messages. But congregants said they were determined to overcome and rebuild, and to gather again this Sunday in a socially distanced fashion. Thompson said the former Rev. Betty Gregg, 81, who has been seeking historic landmark status for the building, would continue that push.
She also shared a statement from Deacon Bobbie Kennedy: “This was not the type of news I wanted to end 2020 with. It’s definitely a big setback and disappointing. I am grateful that no life was lost. I still believe God is faithful and will see us through like before. Be encouraged!”