Winston-Salem church destroyed in overnight fire

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. -- The most recent sermon delivered at the New Gospel Tabernacle Holiness Church 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.

However, when church members walked out of the front doors of the church around noon Sunday, they had no idea that their pastor’s words would seem to apply to what would come in the next 24 hours.

“We like to think of war as a war between two countries, or two factions, or whatever,” Cockerham said. “But, this is a spiritual war, this is between God and evil.”

Around 3 a.m. Monday, firefighters were called to the church for a report that it was on fire. Like the flames, news of the fire spread rapidly, and members began to arrive to see for themselves.

“I just wanted to just holler,” said Alice D. Roseboro, who began worshiping at the church in 2017.

Roseboro tells FOX8 at first, she only saw smoke. But, flames soon began to shoot through the roof, until the roof itself collapsed.

“Just a gut feeling,” she said. “Just a part of you just being burned down.”

Firefighters fought the flames for several hours. Smoke could be seen rising from the rubble well into Monday afternoon.

“It’s like, it’s like my own home being burned down,” Cockerham said, of when he first saw the ruins of the church. “I mean, you can imagine what it would feel like if you went away from home and came back and there was nothing there but ash and that’s how I feel right now.”

Cockerham says he’s been a member at the church since he was born.

“81 years ago,” Moses said, adding that he was born at the church. “1937.”

Groups came and went throughout the day Monday to see the church for themselves, many staying for most of the day as investigators worked to figure out how the fire started.

About 12 hours after the fire started, Assistant Chief Tad Byrum of the Winston-Salem Fire Department said the investigation was still in the “cause and origin phase,” with investigators still trying to determine where and how the fire started. After those factors are determined, they hope to be able to decide if the fire was accidental or not.

“It’s not a very good feeling,” Moses said. “It’s kind of like an empty feeling.”

The church pastor tells FOX8 the church did not have insurance. Nevertheless, members are hopeful the community will step up to help them rebuild.

“It could be a rebirth,” Cockerham said. “Sometimes the end looks more like the beginning.”

Church members say they plan to have services this coming Sunday, even if they’re held in the church parking lot.