There’s nothing suspicious about the cause of the Saturday night fire that destroyed Brandy Station’s Shiloh Baptist Church, according to the community’s fire chief.
Brandy Station Volunteer Fire Department Chief David Myers said Monday afternoon he believed it was an electrical fire, originating in the boiler unit, HVAC system. “That’s what it’s looking like at this point,” he said.
An insurance investigator was expected to visit Monday, the church’s pastor, the Rev. Reese Washington, said Sunday evening.
“Churches and others have volunteered use of their buildings,” Washington said in a phone interview. “There has been overwhelming support from the community, from many churches and many denominations—from churches I hadn’t even heard of. It’s been a blessing.
“Right now, we’re trying to work out a consistent place to meet until we get our church built back up,” he said.
Wayland Blue Ridge Baptist Association, Mount Olive Baptist Church, Christ Episcopal Church, the Brandy Station fire hall, and Found and Sons chapel all offered the use of their facilities so the congregation can continue its worship, he said.
By Wednesday, church leaders expect they will decide on a temporary location for services. On Sunday, members worshiped at Mount Olive.
Shiloh Baptist is located at 15055 Stevensburg Road in the village of Brandy Station in eastern Culpeper County.
Shiloh Baptist’s congregation had been growing—a mix of seniors, youth and middle-aged people, Washington said. Attendance at a typical service ranges from 65 to 80 people, sometimes more, he said.
Of the fire, Washington said: “There was no suspicious activity. That’s a good thing.”
Two of the church’s outbuildings survived, and the congregation will rely on them to continue Shiloh’s food and clothing ministries to anyone who needs help. Washington said.
Members intend to distribute food on-site next Saturday morning, per usual, he said.
“We’ll keep helping the community,” he said.
Many of its members are older and joined when they were young folks, so “there are a lot of memories” embedded in the church, Washington said.
The church building’s cornerstone dates from 1897.
William Taylor, Jack Lacey and William Progue organized Shiloh Baptist near Brandy in 1867, according to Eugene Scheel’s, “Culpeper: A Virginia County’s History Through 1920,” published 1982 by the Culpeper Historical Society. Its congregation elected Samuel Gordon pastor, and he was followed shortly by the Rev. Leland Waring.
The church was built on land donated by Willis Madden, a free African-American who ran a well-visited tavern and store in Culpeper County – “one of the institutions of that day”—from about 1840 until 1865, Scheel reports.
In 1891, the Rev. Willard Johnson became minister at Shiloh and in 1897 the present church arose, its date stone bearing the inscription, “1897 Shiloh Baptist Church.” According to Scheel, the date stone is the oldest surviving of any black church in Culpeper.
In the immediate years after the Civil War, many white Baptists felt they should continue efforts toward influencing the moral standards of blacks, urging them to retain memberships in their old meeting houses. But African-Americans, many formerly enslaved, wanted to form their own congregations – Shiloh was one such church, according to Scheel.
Washington has been Shiloh’s pastor for the past 12 years.
About 30 firefighters responded to the blaze when trucks were dispatched about 6:17 p.m. Saturday. “Wagon 2 arrived to find heavy fire upon arrival,” the department reported via its Facebook page.
After dousing the flames, firefighters spent more hours onsite making sure the smoldering remains wouldn’t reignite, leaving about 11:30 p.m.
Brandy Station’s firefighters were joined by many other first responders, including Culpeper County Volunteer Fire Department, Richardsville Volunteer Fire Department and Rescue Squad, Salem Volunteer Fire Department, Little Fork Volunteer Fire and Rescue, Rapidan Volunteer Fire Department, Inc., Culpeper County Volunteer Rescue Squad, Culpeper Emergency Services, Reva Volunteer Fire & Rescue, Remington Volunteer Fire and Rescue Department, Lois Volunteer Fire Department, Goldvein Volunteer Fire Department, Lake of the Woods Volunteer Fire, Culpeper County Sheriff’s Office, and Culpeper Dispatch.
Like others, Brandy Station Volunteer Fire Department has extended its offer of assistance to Shiloh Baptist and its members, posting, “Our thoughts and prayers are with the pastor and congregation. #brandyshilohstrong” on Facebook.
“They are a community-based organization, and we want to support our friends and neighbors,” Myers said.
Washington said the church has accepted an offer from Scott Found, an owner of Found and Sons Funeral Chapel in Culpeper, to start raising funds to help rebuild the church. Alice Young, the church’s finance director, will work with Found and local businesses on the effort.
“So far I have been contacted by a number of businesses (could be a lot more) and have a decent amount pledged already,” Found wrote on his Facebook page Sunday afternoon. “Businesses who want to start with seed money get in touch with me via PM or text:229-2341. I’m hoping to start a matching campaign of $20,000 minimum and open up to individuals to leverage the matching funds. Everything will be super transparent and every single cent will be turned over to Shiloh Baptist Church (of course, a nonprofit). Some businesses have indicated they would be willing to hold fundraisers and donate the proceeds, that’s an awesome idea as well.
“It’s thankfully not often that a historic structure, let alone a church has sustained this kind of damage. It is important for Culpeper and the surrounding communities come together to support a congregation in need. I’ve seen it many times in Culpeper and I know we can come together to get Shiloh back on its feet and time to decide their next move.
“Stay tuned for the actual fundraiser tomorrow. Businesses, please indicate if you would like to participate, no amount is too small or big. Be a blessing this week!”
Sunday morning, a brilliant sun shone down on the church’s blackened ruins as a haze of smoke lingered over the scene.
“We’ve been coming over here to check on it all through the night, to make sure it’s out,” Pep Troilo, a Brandy Station volunteer firefighter, said of the once-smoldering fire.
Troilo spoke as he completed tying off yellow caution tape he had strung around the building’s remains to discourage anyone from getting too close.
Brenda Greene, a Shiloh Church minister, spoke in hushed tones to church members who pulled up in a truck to see the effects of the fire.
Other motorists passed the site slowly to have a look, or called out a window to ask if they could help.
The Rev. William R. Wood, a retired minister from the area, also came to see the damage. Afterward, he planned to immediately visit his friend, Pastor Washington, to offer his help and donate toward rebuilding the church, he said.
Pastor emeritus of Mount Calvary Missionary Baptist Church in Washington, D.C., Wood said Shiloh Baptist didn’t boast a fancy interior. But it was tidy and beautiful, with a balcony and lovely stained-glass windows, he said.
“It was miserable to hear of such a disaster happening. So much history gone,” Wood said of the fire. “But maybe God has a way of straightening things out. Maybe this is a blessing in disguise.”