- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 28, 2000

A fire destroyed the building but not the spirit of members and friends of the First Baptist Church of Kingstowne, Va., early yesterday.

Old and new friends and many of the 140 church members came to see the devastation, estimated at $1.25 million. Only the white steeple was intact above a blown-out stained-glass window, supported by brick walls. They came to hug, shake hands and commiserate with Pastor Clyde Duncan, 63, who had ministered there nearly 23 years.

Residents in adjacent town houses had called 911 at 2:56 a.m. to report flames shooting from the roof and several windows of the church in the 7300 block of Hayfield Road. The first arriving firefighters called in second and third alarms until 70 firefighters and 20 trucks were battling the blaze.

"The only thing salvageable is the steeple," said Dan Schmidt, spokesman for the Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department. "We have not determined the cause. It appears to have started in the kitchen or library."

The last known people in the church were families who attended the 6 p.m. Sunday worship service. Mr. Duncan said the kitchen had not been used for several days.

"We got the call at 4:15," said Mr. Duncan's wife, Virginia "Jean" Duncan, explaining they were asleep in their home a mile away.

The fire destroyed everything: the 44 Bibles in the pews and more than 200 hymnals; all of the music for the 23-member choir and a 3-month-old, $19,000 concert piano with computer discs that practically eliminated the need for a pianist.

The minister's son, Mike Duncan, 39, is the music director and arranged for purchase of the computerized piano after three church pianists moved on, including his brother Clyde Otis Duncan, now working as an administrative assistant in New Jersey.

Typical of the helpful spirit yesterday amid the fire's aftermath was Fairfax County Sheriff's Deputy M.P. Bible, who appeared about noon at the blackened, crumbled, brick church just a couple of blocks from Hayfield High School.

"You can use our church while you decide what you're going to do," Deputy Bible, of the Virginia Hills Baptist Church, told Mr. Duncan.

Mr. Duncan said the regular Wednesday evening worship service will be held at 7 p.m. in First Baptist's educational building, behind the charred church ruins. The building's plastic siding was warped by the heat but not seriously damaged.

The First Baptist Church could hardly be considered a church when Mr. and Mrs. Duncan arrived with their two sons and daughter from Battle Creek, Mich., in December 1977.

"There was nothing but a hill [where the church is]. There were two houses [on the east side of Hayfield Road] and a farmhouse over there," Mrs. Duncan said.

The church was built in 1972, but had only 16 members, including 10 charter members and the five Duncans, said daughter Renee Duncan, 27, a manicurist. Her father said most of those original members still attend.

"They were a small group, so determined they wanted a church in this area," Mr. Duncan said.

Now, the church is surrounded by houses and a bustling shopping center nearby at Hayfield and Telegraph roads. Hayfield Road was expanded from two to four lanes a few years ago, taking much of the front lot of the church.

As a youth, Mr. Duncan never envisioned the establishment and ministry of two churches. Born in Albuquerque, N.M., his parents separated and he moved away with his father, an itinerant painter. Eventually, he was taken in by foster parents in Atlanta when he was 10.

At 16, Mr. Duncan went to Michigan to visit his mother and sister. His mother signed papers that allowed him to enlist in the Army. A couple of years later, he was again visiting in Michigan, planning to re-enlist, when he met his wife-to-be, and she didn't want to marry and move around a lot.

So, Mr. Duncan settled down, operating a service station for about five years until something began bothering him. "I couldn't put my finger on it," Mr. Duncan said.

The Duncans took time off for a trip back to Atlanta, and he felt the need for "conversion." They sold the Michigan service station and their house and went to Little Rock, Ark., where he studied at the Missionary Baptist Seminary.

After he completed seminary, the Duncans returned to Michigan where Mr. Duncan took over a self-supporting church of nine members in a two-room house on five acres.

In 1977, a pastor friend visited a son living in Alexandria, Va.

"He called my husband at 12 o'clock at night" and told Mr. Duncan his son's church had no pastor, Mrs. Duncan recalled.

The Duncans flew to visit the church, which turned out to be the First Baptist Church of Kingstowne.

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