Within hours, the small West Virginia church where the Rev. Phil Farrington and his congregation had worshiped for the past several years was gone.
The pastor had received a call from the fire department early Sunday morning, telling him that there was a fire at his church, Freedom Ministries, in Daniels, about 70 miles southeast of Charleston.
“We rushed out there,” he told The Washington Post on Tuesday. “I sat down on the ground and cried and watched it burn.”
Firefighters from several departments worked for hours to beat the blaze — as the flames swallowed the structure and smoke billowed high into the air. Fire officials said the structure sustained heavy damage. But when it was over and firefighters were combing through the rubble, they uncovered church possessions that had survived: Bibles. Farrington said the sacred texts had been scattered throughout the sanctuary, most in seat-back pockets for parishioners and one that was kept on the pulpit for him.
The Coal City Fire Department posted pictures on Facebook showing the Bibles, which had been collected into a pile on the soot-stained ground.
“Though odds were against us, God was not,” the fire department wrote in the post over the weekend. “Picture this, a building so hot that at one point in time, firefighters had to back out. In your mind, everything should be burned, ashes. Not a single bible was burned and not a single cross was harmed! Not a single firefighter was hurt!”
Farrington said he sees it as a sign from God that nearly two dozen Bibles were untouched, as were three crosses — two wooden crosses on the walls inside the church and one on the rooftop made of stone.
“In the midst of the fire, God’s word will always stand,” he said.
After the fire, Farrington, of Crab Orchard, W.Va., said that the small, nondenominational congregation of about 250 people was invited to an evening service in the church’s youth building, which was not burned down. There, he said, the unscathed Bibles were placed on a table for everyone to see during a time when the congregation needs hope.
“There have been tears,” the pastor said, “tons of tears.”
The fire department’s photos of the unscorched Bibles have swept social media over the past couple of days, with some people expressing doubt but many others giving thanks. Farrington said that when people try to give a scientific explanation for why the Bibles did not burn, “I just sort of grin because it seems to me that paper burns pretty easy, especially when everything around it is burning.”
The Bibles that were pictured in the fire department’s photo appear to be leather-bound and paperback New International Version (NIV) Bibles.
Melinda Bouma, publisher for Zondervan Bibles, which publishes several million NIV Bibles around the world each year, said that the Bibles — just like any other books — are flammable. “There is nothing in the production process that would protect them from fire,” she told The Post.
Bouma said that when she heard about the church fire, her first thought was a Bible verse: Isaiah 40:8. It says, “The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God endures forever.”
“It burned down, and nothing really survived,” she said about the West Virginia church, “but the word of our Lord survived. It gave me goose bumps.”
Farrington said he has been a “zombie” since the blaze. He said he is not certain how the fire started but knows that the church will have to be rebuilt. He said that the structure was partly insured and that the church is raising money to help pay for the repairs. In the meantime, he said, the congregation will meet in the youth building.
But despite the destruction, Farrington said, he is glad to see the story of the Bibles is “touching lives.”
“I think it’s amazing that it’s been able to reach people,” he said, “and to see how many people are being touched by it.”