Historic church picking up the pieces after fire

Editor: Shannon Cottongame

Photo by: April Sanders

May 26, 2022

Pastor Shane Metcalf delivered the message to members of Pleasant Hill Missionary Baptist Church and guests during an outdoor service held on the church grounds Sunday, May 22. A week earlier, the historic church was destroyed in a fire that authorities are calling suspicious. Pastor Metcalf told the congregation that they will rebuild and the best is yet to come, adding that the church will move forward in a positive manner without hate or accusations. “Haters are our motivators,” he said. The church has a historical marker that states it was formed in 1883 when three of the first African American Baptist churches in Hill County united to form Pleasant Hill.

Members of the historic Pleasant Hill Missionary Baptist Church in Whitney had a painful week after their church building was destroyed in a suspicious fire late Sunday night, May 15, but by the next Sunday, they were meeting outdoors on the church grounds and vowing to pick up the pieces.

“If God is with us, who can be against us?” Pastor Shane Metcalf asked the congregation during Sunday’s service. He stressed the importance of the group coming together to rebuild. “We’re going to need each other to make this work,” he said.

Local law enforcement agencies and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) are investigating the fire.

Whitney Fire Department was dispatched to the church, located in the 200 block of South Pecos Street, just after 10:30 p.m. May 15. Assistance was requested from Lakeview and Peoria fire departments due to the fully-involved structure fire.

In a press release, Whitney Police Chief Chris Bentley said that the extreme weather temperatures combined with the heat from the fire limited the fire unit’s ability to enter the structure.

“Investigation into the cause of the fire appears to be suspicious and requires additional resources,” Bentley said. The fire investigation is currently being conducted by the Whitney Police Department with assistance from the ATF and the Hill County Sheriff’s Office.

Church members at the scene of the fire held hands and prayed as they watched the building burn. At least two members tried to battle the flames with water hoses while waiting for the fire department.

“It hurts, but this is more fuel for our fire,” Pastor Shane Metcalf said at the scene. “Trust and believe,” he added.

A Texas historical marker at the church reads: “Among the first African-American Baptist congregations in Hill County were the churches at Towash (organized in 1869), Lofer’s Bend, and near Aquilla. These three congregations were united in 1883 to form the Pleasant Hill Missionary Baptist Church. Pleasant Hill’s original building was demolished and the cornerstone laid for a new structure in 1894. Church trustees purchased the church lot from Dr. D. R. Wallace of Waco in 1901. The congregation had grown to about 100 members by 1907. More than 100 years later the members carry on the traditions of worship and community instilled by the early Pleasant Hill congregation.”

“Pleasant Hill’s Rebuilding Donation Account” has been set up to assist the church with its rebuilding effort, and donations can be made at Citizens State Bank in Whitney.

The church plans to hold outdoor services for at least the next two weeks.

Anyone with information about the fire is asked to contact Chief Bentley at the Whitney Police Department at 254-694-2638.

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