POSSUM KINGDOM LAKE -- All that remains where the First Baptist Church of Possum Kingdom Lake once stood is the sign out front.
Behind it, the church building lay in shreds Sunday morning. Pieces of soot-covered red brick filled the parking lot. Black and gray ash filled what was left of the sanctuary. The faint stench of smoke still hung in the air.
Still, church members gathered to celebrate Easter, mourn the loss of their sanctuary to wildfires last week and thank God for what remained.
"What we lost is great," Pastor Dennis Trammell said. "But we still have each other."
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The 100-member congregation met in the church's Family Life Center, a gymnasium that survived the fire despite being just a couple of hundred yards away from the sanctuary.
Using mismatched hymnals borrowed from area churches, members sang It Is Well With My Soul and The Old Rugged Cross.
Trammell asked members to share their most cherished memories of the church building, which was built in 1985. Many had married there. One couple celebrated their 70th wedding anniversary in the church. A young girl met her first best friend. Children were baptized, and old friends were mourned at funerals.
But Trammell reminded them that a church is about the people, not brick and mortar.
"Buildings are replaceable," he told them.
So far, more than 160 homes and one other church, Cedar Springs United Methodist near the community of Brad about 10 miles south of the lake, have been destroyed in the wildfires. Both churches burned April 15.
Steve Singleton, the church's youth minister and a volunteer firefighter, watched flames overtake the church and many homes but said the extent of the devastation is just now hitting him.
"This happened for a reason. We know that," Singleton said. "But we're still coming to terms with the loss."
First Baptist members said that they will rebuild, that it is only a matter of when and how. For now, they will continue meeting in the gymnasium.
Tommy Nicklas, a church deacon and retired Dallas firefighter who has lived on the lake almost his entire life, spent the past week working with volunteer firefighters and neighbors to fight the flames encroaching on their properties.
Nicklas lost part of his pump house, but his home remained standing.
"Everybody has been helping everybody," Nicklas said. "We've all been in this together, and that has been amazing."
Amid the devastation, Trammell told parishioners to seek solace in such stories.
"I want to be perfectly clear. I'm not saying this fire was a good thing," Trammell said. "But God can bring good things out of the worst situations. God can, and God will."
Trammell shared one such story. Only one item survived the sanctuary fire: a big, old maroon Bible that a firefighter grabbed just before flames engulfed the church. That Bible will someday rest on the communion table in the new First Baptist Church of Possum Kingdom Lake.
Sarah Bahari, 817-390-7056