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'There's no saving anything': Junction church burns after being hit by lightning

  • Firefighters did their best overnight but the church appears wrecked by fire.

    Firefighters did their best overnight but the church appears wrecked by fire.
    Courtesy of Pastor Jeffery Robinson

  • In the light of day, this side of the church is still standing.

    In the light of day, this side of the church is still standing.
    Jodee Harmon photo

  • The Junction General Baptist Church in happier days.

    The Junction General Baptist Church in happier days.
    Courtesy of Pastor Jeffery Robinson

  • Pre-fire, this photo shows a neat, well-lit church interior.

    Pre-fire, this photo shows a neat, well-lit church interior.
    Courtesy of Pastor Jeffery Robinson

By Renee Trappe
updated: 6/3/2022 1:17 PM

A more than 100-year-old church in Junction was leveled by fire Wednesday night, after what firefighters suspect was a lightning strike to the tall steeple.

But former pastor Jeffery Robinson, who still has strong connections to Junction General Baptist Church and its congregation, said Thursday the church will rebuild.

"I can see that everything is going to be OK, even if they don't see it yet," said Robinson, who is now the youth minister at Freedom Baptist in McLeansboro. "Junction is not done yet and they will rebuild. I want to speak that truth to the people who are there. There will be an outpouring of support."

Shawneetown Fire Chief Terry Golden said Thursday that while the church's insurance company has not yet determined its fate, the charming, small church is presumably a total loss. He said the State Fire Marshal is investigating, but right now the assumption is the steeple was hit by lightning and started the fire.

He also confirmed there were no injuries.

"All the fire was up high, and one of the neighbors heard a big boom about 30 minutes before (the fire was spotted) that knocked out breakers in his house," Golden said. "He went outside and didn't see anything, but about half an hour later he looked out and saw that up in the steeple it was burning. Then he called 911."

Golden said they got the call around 10 p.m. and were headed to Junction within two minutes. From his seat in the ladder truck, Golden said he could see the red glow in the sky as far away as Shawneetown.

Current pastor Roy Biggerstaff and senior Deacon Floyd Bradley could not be reached before deadline to talk about where the church goes from here.

Robinson said the loss of the church is devastating.

"There is no saving the building and no saving anything inside of it," he confirmed Thursday.

He said he got the call about 10:30 p.m. Wednesday and drove there as quickly as he could, "to be with my Junction Church family," he posted on Facebook. "We hugged, cried and prayed."

Junction GB Church is no stranger to heartbreak. Flooding in 2010 destroyed the church's archives -- including the paperwork from the first-ever General Assembly of Baptists, held there 104 years ago.

Moreover, Robinson said the first sermon he ever preached there was down in the church basement, because the ceiling had collapsed upstairs.

But Robinson said that as early as Wednesday night he was hearing promises of support and help, and on Thursday morning he was being contacted some more. He has already heard from a church in Morganfield, Kentucky -- one of the towns devastated by the tornado last Dec. 10 -- and a missionary friend of his in Saipan, plus others.

Junction General Baptist is also part of the Mount Olivet Baptist Association.

As the fire raged and congregants watched, Robinson said he told them their church will be done "only when they decide it is." It could continue in partnership with another church for the time being, he said, or even in tent-revival style in the parking lot.

Golden said his firefighters got a pretty good knock on the fire when they got there, and called in Harrisburg, Equality and Ridgeway. Junction does not have a fire department and they come under Shawneetown's protection.

"We had our ladder truck there and Harrisburg had a ladder truck," he added. The church is on city water, but fire departments also brought their tankers and so firefighters had enough water to fight the blaze.

When the ceiling collapsed onto the main floor, it became harder to get to some of the hot spots, Golden added. Firefighters wrapped up about 4 a.m. but Shawneetown firefighters returned to the church about 9:30 a.m. on Thursday and found a couple of hot spots that needed to be handled.