“I was numb, just numb,” admitted Pastor Darrell Biram of Grace Assembly of God in Shelbyville, Kentucky. That was Biram’s reaction to the devastating fire that destroyed his congregation’s 40-year-old church building on March 7.
When Biram, who is 61, received a call from the Shelbyville Fire Department about the church being on fire at 8:55 p.m., he thought it was something small that would be handled quickly. He and his 25-year-old son, Trey, jumped in the car and headed for the church — just 10 minutes away.
As the pair arrived, both of the men were stunned by the extent of the fire — the roof over the sanctuary had collapsed and the roaring blaze seemed to be consuming the remnant; the steeple had already collapsed into the interior of the building.
“A passerby noticed flames shooting out of the East side of the building and called the fire department,” Darrell Biram says, “but when the fire department arrived, the flames had subsided and weren’t visible. The firefighters also didn’t see any sign of fire on the ground floor — so they initially thought it was a prank call.”
But the fire was in the attic and it was being pulled, as if in a wind tunnel, into the rest of attic under the roof, initially hiding it from firefighters. When the fire burned through, the church quickly turned into a fiery, uncontrollable blaze.
“It was a challenging week, at best,” says Joseph Girdler, network pastor/superintendent of the Kentucky Ministry Network. “I left my Louisville home and drove to Shelbyville to stand at the midnight hour with Pastor Darrell and his family watching the church in flames. He was shaken, as expected, yet resilient and optimistic believing the best days must certainly be ahead.”
Biram, who has pastored the church for 21 years, says the three-alarm fire resulted in the Shelbyville, Simpsonville, and Shelby County Fire Departments sending seven fire trucks and 40 firefighters to put out the blaze. The Shelby County EMS and Shelby County Sheriff’s Department along with a host of support vehicles were also on the scene.
“I’m so grateful and appreciative for all the first responders and what they did that evening,” Biram says. “The fire was finally extinguished about 3 a.m. Tuesday morning.”
What added to the emotional challenge of that evening was Biram, his wife, Kristi, and other family members were meeting in his mother’s home — working out the details for his father’s funeral, who had passed away after an extended and difficult health battle only three days earlier.
Investigators determined that the fire originated in the balcony furnace system, however the insurance settlements for the structure and contents are still being finalized. Last week, permission was finally granted to have the building razed as it was a total loss.
“The congregation, though small, is grounded in the Word and has not been moved by the loss — they have the faith and fortitude that with the Lord’s help, we will rebuild,” Biram says. “We’re going to make it. None of this was a surprise to God . . . God knew from the beginning that this would happen and that we would call on Him in the time of our need.”
“The Sunday immediately following the tragedy my wife, Renee’, joined me to attend their service held at a local movie theatre,” Girdler says. “As I shared with the congregation, I sensed a people of hope and purpose. God has a plan and He is working all things to good for His people.”
The community has been outstanding in response to the church’s needs, Biram says. The day after the fire, the manager of the Shelbyville Stadium 8 Cinemas called him.
“I was walking around the exterior of the church building,” Biram says, “and the theater manager called me and opened the doors to the theater to us. He said, ‘Don’t worry, we’ll take care of you.’ He’s allowing us to meet there free of charge for as long as we need to. He also is allowing the Pentecostal Hispanic congregation that was meeting in our church on Sunday afternoons to use the facilities for free as well. Praise God for that!”
It’s only been about a month since the church was destroyed, but Biram says he has seen God already working in many ways. A small but “big” thing he notes was they were lent a new PA system to use at the theater — now they don’t have to rent one.
Biram says, “I told our congregation a saying that I recalled: ‘In our darkest moment is where God shines the brightest’ and that’s what we’ve been seeing in small and big ways.”
The future, Biram believes, though still filled with questions and the unknown, has one solution: “We’re desperately needing prayer and we covet that, and we know the Lord will see us through.”