A tale of two Piedmont churches: Triumph and tribulations following fires

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WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — In April 2018, a Sunday sermon delivered at the New Gospel Tabernacle Holiness Church along North Laura Wall Boulevard in Winston-Salem was centered around “preparing for war.”  

“We are in a spiritual battle not just a physical battle,” said church Deacon Avery Cockerham when asked how he interpreted his pastor’s message.

“To forge ahead and deal with today’s problems,” Deacon Joniest Moses added. 

When church members walked out of the church’s front doors that day, none imagined they wouldn’t be walking back through them the following week. Or the following month. Or the following three years. 

“It was some kind of experience,” said Head Deacon Samuel Gamble. “It was devastating.” 

Gamble is referring to 3 a.m. the following morning and the hours which followed as church members were woken up to be told their building was on fire. 

“I couldn’t believe it,” he recalled. “But it was real.” 

Video captured firefighters attempting to calm the flames, which lit up the neighborhood for about an hour. When the sun came up, the building had collapsed. 

“Somebody was cooking something,” Gamble said. “And I don’t think it was food.” 

Less than four months later, and about forty minutes north, another church leader received a similar call. 

“The phone call,” said Pastor Randy Edwards of Faith Baptist Church in Mount Airy. “Somebody said ‘the church is on fire.’” 

Flames were billowing out of the roof of a building, which sits atop a hill along South Franklin Road. Drivers stopped to watch as the smoke rose into the sky while members of the church congregation gathered in the parking lot of the neighboring Franklin Elementary School. 

“I wound up going behind our building back there where we store lawn stuff, and I was just really, really sick upon my stomach,” Edwards says. “I can’t believe what I’m seeing.” 

The following year, FOX8 followed up with the churches. At the time, Faith Baptist had been reduced to the building’s original slab. The congregation was holding services in the gym behind what was the church building. New Gospel Tabernacle Holiness was completely gone, with a grassy lot in its place, and the sign displaying which once stood there intact along the road. The ramp, steps and metal handrails which once led church members to the front door were also present. 

“Every time you come, you start thinking about the years past and the people that were here before,” Gamble said. 

Today, Faith Baptist has been completely rebuilt and looks almost identical to how it did prior to August 27, 2018.  

“This is a building,” Edwards said. “It’s made out of brick and mortar. But the people are the church.” 

New Gospel Tabernacle Holiness’ lot remains just that: a grassy plot of land, littered with bottles and plastic, even shell casings.  

“Something big is going to happen. God done told me that,” Gamble said. “Something big is going to happen.” 

Faith Baptist had insurance at the time of its fire. New Gospel Tabernacle Holiness did not. Gamble says repairs were scheduled to be done at the church on the day of the fire, and they planned to get insurance once they were done because it would reduce the cost. 

The church was doing fundraising in the hope of rebuilding, but those efforts took a hit once COVID-19 emerged. Today, they’re holding a couple services a month in the hope of resuming fundraising efforts over the next year.   

“With God helping us, we’re going to be alright,” Gamble said. 

With a cross erected in front of the new church building – made from steel which once held the old building together – Edwards offered words of encouragement for Gamble as he works to keep his congregation as one.  

“The people is what matters the most,” he said. “Keep ministering to those people, and it’ll come together.” 

Edwards is still working to figure out a safe way to bring the entire congregation back into the building.  

Donations to New Gospel Tabernacle Holiness Church can be sent to P.O. Box 173, Winston-Salem, N.C., 27102.  

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