After a fire destroyed Antioch Baptist Church in Ralls County, Mo., on Dec. 20, pastor Jack Emmite promised the congregation one thing: they would have a place to worship on Christmas Sunday. That place was Smith Funeral Home, which invited Antioch to hold services in their chapel.
“Ironically, the funeral home is a place of death,” said Emmite. “And like the Lord’s humble beginnings, for this body of believers, this is symbolic of a new beginning…not death. It doesn’t matter if we’re under a bridge or in a brand-new facility. The church is not the building. We, the people, are the
body of Christ. We celebrate a fresh start.”
On that Sunday morning, he reminded the people that Jesus was buried in a borrowed tomb. Antioch is using a borrowed facility.
Thinking about the last few weeks, Emmite said the tragedy has brought the heartbroken members closer together. Historical records show people in the Hannibal, Mo., community started meeting in homes as far back as 1857. Shortly after the Civil War ended, they organized the church. This church has a long history — a history of weddings, baptisms, funerals. With the cemetery adjacent to the church
and Hannibal being a tourist town, visitors are often seen searching for tombstones of ancestors.
Serving as pastor of Antioch Baptist for the last 25 years, Emmite realized a lot of memories went up in the smoke that day, especially for older members. Along with the structure, his personal library was
located in the church.
Helen Linnenburger has been a member of Antioch all her life.
“Since the 1930s, this has been my family’s church,” says Linnenburger. “These people are like family. We love and care for each other. After the fire, the response has been tremendous from other communities and churches wanting to help. We appreciate and thank those who care for
us. And we are thankful to the Lord and for the Gospel.”
In regard to continued worship plans, Emmite says, “We will be using the Seventh-day Adventist
Church for the present, Sunday morning, Sunday evening and Wednesday prayer service. We’re taking one step at a time and will wait on the Lord.”
At this time, they are waiting on the insurance adjuster and other inspections to take place. As to future plans, the church will rebuild. A steering committee and other groups are being organized.
“Antioch was set on a hill and a beacon of light to our community,” responds Linnenburger. “We want to see that light reflect across our area again.”
With love and faith, the church will move ahead with the Lord’s work. And God’s kingdom will be rebuilt.
Emmite says that people have been so generous in their support and prayers. Many ask how they could help Antioch Baptist. Prayers, encouragement, kind words are invaluable at this time. The pastor says
Facebook is one way to contact the church (facebook.com/AntiochHannibal). Another is to write directly to the Antioch Baptist Church, 59621 Antioch Lane, Hannibal, MO 63401.
Carolyn Tomlin is co-author of “The Secret Holocaust Diaries: The Untold Story of Nonna Bannister” and teaches the Boot Camp for Christian Writers.