Two years after the fire, a new Lynn Valley Baptist Church rises from the ashes

John Thompson • Jan 18, 2018 at 11:03 PM

ELIZABETHTON — Lynn Valley Baptist Church has a lot to celebrate this week.

The congregation has been meeting in the church gymnasium in its Life Center ever since an October 2015 destroyed the old sanctuary.

But this Saturday from 2-4 p.m., Senior Pastor Dennis Wilson is inviting everyone to come to the dedication ceremony of its new sanctuary and the beginning of the third church building in the history of Lynn Valley Baptist.

The new sanctuary is bright and spacious, with seating for 400 — quite an increase from the 220-seat capacity of the old sanctuary. Wilson said the extra capacity will come in handy, too: the church has had 40 new members join since last April.

One of the most noticeable differences is that pews have been replaced with individual seats. Less noticeable to those who aren't longtime members of the church is the modernistic illustration of a cross over the baptistry. It is similar to the cross on the old baptistry. That cross has been saved and will eventually be installed in a shadow box.

The 2015 fire started in the vicinity of the baptistry. Wilson said investigators found the fire was caused by a rusted-out pulley that broke and disconnected the fan belt on the heating unit. That shut off the fan, causing the heating unit to overheat and start the fire.

The Stoney Creek, Watauga and Hampton,volunteer fire departments quickly extinguished the fire, but the damage had been done.

But Wilson said the church never missed a single Sunday service.

He said the Friday after the fire, church members rented a truck and left early in the morning for Canton, Georgia. There, they bought 220 disassembled chairs and returned to Lynn Valley, getting to  the church by 4 p.m.

The call then went out for help assembling the chairs and placing them in the gymnasium.

Wilson said between 60 and 80 people responded to the call and began assembling the chairs. "People don't believe it when I tell them, but it was all done in a couple of hours," Wilson said. He then quoted Nehemiah 4:6: "For the people had a mind to work."

While the gymnasium kept the congregation under a roof for over two years, Wilson said "a gym is just a gym."

The choir likely missed the acoustics of a sanctuary. Certainly, the church missed its baptistry.

But one thing the church did not do was gather down by the river. The Watauga River runs right behind the church property, but as church members point out, the water comes through the dam from the depths of Watauga Lake and is icy cold, even in July and August.

Wilson said that problem was solved by Nancy Byrd, who lived just down the street. She donated the use of her outdoor swimming pool.

The congregation remained faithful to the church and generously supported it, enabling the rebuilding program, which reaches its conclusion with the dedication ceremony on Saturday afternoon. “It has been wonderful to watch God’s people work,” Wilson said.

Wilson said several businesses also helped out. Carter County Bank provided a $1.6 million loan. GRC of Kingsport was the contractor on the project. 

This is the third sanctuary the church has had since the church incorporated on Dec. 27, 1943, under pastor Mack Hodge. Wilson said the first services were held at the home of Charlie Elliott. The first building stood for 20 years until it was replaced with a new building in the 1960s. It was that building in which the fire started in 2015.