Walker County church to rebuild, arsonist still sought - WRCBtv.com | Chattanooga News, Weather & Sports

Walker County church to rebuild, arsonist still sought

WALKER COUNTY, GA. (WRCB)  --  Three weeks ago, investigators say someone set fire to a historic church in Walker County. Damages at Garretts Chapel Baptist Church are estimated at half a million dollars.

Officials have worked many leads, and though they have come up empty handed the church is moving forward.

Since the fire, the congregation has been offered many places to hold services, but they turned them down.  Church members wanted to stay together.  They decided to meet in their fellowship hall.

It's a full house Sunday Morning at Garrett's Chapel Church, during the invitation many come forward to kneel and pray at the altar.

"Even if the building itself is gone we're still part of a family," says church secretary, Donna Nave.

Channel 3 first met Nave as she sifted through the wreckage the morning after the fire.  Three weeks later, Nave says the shock has subsided but the hurt is still strong.

"Like this morning," she says.  "It never dawned on me until I saw the burned building again.  It hits you over and over."

Good things have happened in the weeks since the fire, enough donations to purchase a new piano and sound equipment poured in.  Last week the church acquired new pews and hymnals for free.  

"It has really helped," Nave says.  "We even had a lady who didn't have much drive here to give to us.  It was a true blessing."

The best news is Sunday morning attendance, Nave says old members have started coming again.

"Maybe it'll keep growing," says church member, Trine Taylor.  "Once we get the new sanctuary, we'll keep going and praising the Lord." 

Plans for reconstruction have just begun, and the property must be cleared.  Church leaders recently met with a building contractor, but they're still waiting to hear back from their insurance company. 

"A lot of people in the neighborhood say they look to this church as a landmark," Nave says.  "We're trying to build back what we had." 

The road ahead is long, but Nave says Garretts Chapel Church will rebuild.  The fire may have destroyed their building, but not their spirits.

"It's brought us together," she says.

Investigators have received many tips and leads, so far none have panned out.  One tip is that a local gang could be responsible for the fire.  Detectives say that hasn't been substantiated, but they're not ruling it out.

A $10,000 reward is offered to anyone with useful information.  If you know who is responsible for the fire, you're asked to contact Walker County Emergency Services at 706-539-1255.


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