After 'suspicious' church fire, congregation comes together for Sunday service

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CALLAWAY, Va. (WDBJ7) -- On Sunday morning, they came carrying both chairs, and heavy hearts.The two dozen or so members of New Hope United Methodist Church may not have had a sanctuary to worship in, but worship they did.

"I loved it. I loved every bit of it," said Navy veteran Richard Johnson. For him, it was a special moment

"About made me cry. Really did," he said.

Johnson's family has attended services here for generations. After all that history, there was no doubt in his mind that this congregation would carry on

"I knew one way or another we were gonna do it," he said.

And do it they did.

Pastor Amy Pannell delivered her sermon to a group gathered on lawn chairs and picnic tables.The ash and soot from the fire may have been out of sight here, at the church's backyard pavilion, but they were never out of mind.

"When you hear the words New Hope's on fire, you're shaken, shocked and scared," said Pannell.

Pannell honored the first responders that saved New Hope, and reminded her congregation that through it all, God's love prevails.

"I truly believe that we were carried by prayers and hope," she said.

People from surrounding churches also joined the service, exchanging hugs and handshakes with the New Hope congregation.

It was an act that touched longtime members like Carolyn Saul.

"It's wonderful. I mean we're family. Even if we're not kin, we're family," she said.

Saul adds that with the community's help, this 170 year old church will carry on.

"We will worship outside in good weather, and we will go somewhere indoors in bad weather. We will continue to worship," she said.

In other words, you can burn a sanctuary, but here in Callaway, hope always remains.

"We're gonna be around forever and we're gonna keep praying," said Richard Johnson.