- Associated Press - Sunday, December 20, 2015

CONWAY, S.C. (AP) - When Larry Biddle’s Bible study group talked about holding on to faith amid hardship on Dec. 9, he wasn’t expecting a firsthand lesson on the subject the following morning.

But as he examined the blackened portico of the office at St. Paul’s Anglican Church, the longtime member recalled the previous night’s message.

“There’s strength in struggle,” said Biddle, who has attended the church since the 1980s. “And trials and tribulations is where you find the Lord’s blessings.”

The 200 members of St. Paul’s hope the blessings come soon.

The church has seen no shortage of difficulties in recent months. In September, the heating and air system needed to be repaired. Then October’s flood swept into the church’s day school and the bottom floor of the administrative building. Carpet, furniture and drywall had to be replaced.

The losses amounted to more than $40,000 that the church didn’t have. Many members live on fixed incomes. But they pulled together the cash to pay the sudden bills.

“They gave everything they had,” said Father Reggie Corfield, the church’s priest since August.

Then came the fire on Dec. 10, which was contained in the entryway of the administrative building but still caused thousands of dollars in damage.

“It just seems to be coming back to us again and again,” Corfield said. “We were just talking among ourselves, ‘What is The Lord saying to us?’ Our congregation has gone through so much.”

The Dec. 10 fire started around 10:45 a.m.

Biddle, who lives down the street from the church, was preparing to leave for a trip to the mountains when he remembered he needed to drop off some angel tree gift bags that had been collected for the homeless.

After delivering the presents, he started walking to the 1930s administrative building that sits behind the original sanctuary.

That’s when he saw staff members running from the building, yelling about a fire.

Biddle bolted inside the office and grabbed a fire extinguisher from the kitchen. Then he went to the smoking doorway.

“I could see where it was burning,” he said. “I could see it blazing.”

Biddle sprayed the entryway thoroughly, thinking he’d knocked out the fire. But he also remembered how his parents’ home in Arizona had burned. In that case, everyone assumed the fire was out and left. It later rekindled.

Biddle’s patience proved wise when the fire flared up again. As he doused the flames a second time, the fire trucks arrived.

Officials are still trying to determine what sparked the fire, said Jeremy Carter, an assistant chief with Conway Fire Rescue. He said the interior suffered minor smoke damage. Some ceiling panels and insulation had been removed so firefighters could reach the attic in the front of the building.

Church officials expect the damage will cost several thousand dollars.

As members milled around the parking lot, they talked about the string of hard times.

The church was already struggling financially before the recent troubles. Then insurance didn’t cover the flood damage. The deductible for the fire is $5,000.

One woman jokingly wondered when the locusts would arrive.

But the congregation also expressed gratitude that no one was hurt, the building can be repaired and, of course, the worship will continue.

“Faith is unshaken,” Corfield said. “My God, I know him. He is a great provider. He has never failed us. He has never forsaken us. . I don’t know where it is coming from, but I know he will help us through this one again.”

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Information from: The Sun News, http://www.thesunnews.com/

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