Pastor says church fire will push congregation to a new path

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OTTAWA, Kan. -- A fire burned a church down around 5:30 Monday morning in Ottawa, but its members are still staying strong. Worship music nearly overcomes the sounds of destruction. It's a sight members of Bethany Chapel Baptist Church never thought they'd see.

"It was here yesterday and today it's just a ball of fire, nothing but wood," said Teresia Templeton, who has been a member at Bethany her entire life.

Their church weathered 147 years, but collapsed within hours of a raging fire. Templeton woke up to an alarming phone call just before six Monday morning.

"I had rollers in my hair, they got pictures of me with rollers in my hair, a pair of sweats. And then I started a new job today so I went home and changed clothes and they only let me work until 11:30 a.m. And they told me to go home," she said.

But she came back to the church as it was still smoldering, smoke still puffing through what's left of the roof. The Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms and the Kansas State Fire Marshals were called in to investigate the cause and origin of the fire. The building is considered a total loss as flames burned the first and lower levels of the church where the sanctuary once stood.

"Everything's in there, the piano, the pulpit, it's all right there in the room. She's gone," said Armogen Walker of the damage.

Walker has been the pastor for the last decade and says this is God's way of pushing the church toward a new path.

"It's time to get out into the neighborhood, so this may be our initial step into doing so," he said.

For now, the community is leaning on each other for support, but Templeton couldn't stop the tears.

"I got married here, I had my children here, my children got baptized. My husband was ordained here," said Templeton.

But as Templeton looked toward the building for any signs of hope, she was relieved. Church members say it's a miracle the cross is still standing.