Fire Destroys Grundy, VA Church: Is God Still Good?

God is good, all the time — All the time, God is good!”

It was a phrase that was well used, even before I arrived as Pastor of Grundy Baptist Church in January 2002.  Located in the far southwestern part of Virginia (on the border of Kentucky and West Virginia), Grundy is in the heart of coal mining country, situated in the picturesque Appalachian Mountains.  It was at Grundy Baptist Church — established in 1903 — where I would really learn what it meant to be a pastor.  And, my on-the-job training would begin the minute my family and I stepped foot in Grundy.

Five days before we left Florida to relocate to Grundy, I received a call asking me if I had heard what happened in Grundy.  As we were packing and had no television to watch, I told the lady that I didn’t know what she was talking about.  Earlier that day, a disgruntled former student at the Appalachian School of Law — located next door to Grundy Baptist (talk about God’s providence in a former lawyer being called as pastor) — walked into the law school where he shot and killed the Dean, a Professor, and a student before shooting and injuring three other students.  I was stunned and in disbelief.  How could this happen in such a small, seemingly tranquil town?  On Martin Luther King, Jr. Day in 2002, the day ASL re-opened, I began what would be a wonderful 5 1/2 year ministry in Grundy.  As I look back, I see how God’s sovereign hand led me to Grundy at such a special time in the life of the church and community.

Not long after I starting pastoring at Grundy Baptist Church, I heard for the first of what would be thousands of times the phrase spoken during a Sunday morning worship service:  “God is good, all the time — All the time, God is good!”  For a town that had been through so much tragedy, to be able to even say those words was truly meaningful.  But, of course, there is profound truth behind those words, whether we choose to believe it or not.

When things are going well in our life, it is often easy to say that “God is good.”  When we have our health, when our families are well, when our jobs are secure, and when life is going our way, our outlook seems to be that God is good.  And, He most certainly is.  However, it is when life begins to wear us down that we have to come face-to-face with whether or not we truly believe that God is good, ALL THE TIME.  For it is in those “all the time” moments that we face life’s challenges, trials and tribulations.

In 2002, it was such a time for the Appalachian School of Law.  With no facilities big enough to accommodate the Memorial Service for those slain and injured in the law school shooting, Grundy Baptist Church opened her doors to the ASL family and to the community.  With standing room only in Grundy’s sanctuary that day, families were comforted and uplifted in a service that will not likely be forgotten.  The bonds between neighbors — Grundy Baptist Church and the Appalachian School of Law — would be forever forged that day.

Now, nine years later, it is such a time for Grundy Baptist Church.  On Thursday, December 15, 2011, Grundy Baptist Church was destroyed in an early morning fire.  By the time the fire fighters arrived, it was simply too late to save any of the buildings.  I first heard of the news last night when my former secretary at Grundy sent me a message on Facebook.  My first thoughts were of sadness and grief over the loss of the church (and yes, I do realize that the buildings are not the “church”).  The place where I preached and pastored for 5 1/2 years was no longer there.  The sanctuary where I baptized my oldest son is gone.  So many precious memories for me and others that have been affected because of a fire.  There is an incredible sense of grief and loss that must be acknowledged, even if we ultimately believe that “all things work together for the good of those who love God and are the called according to His purposes.”

The question when tragedy strikes often becomes, “Why?”  Why did this fire have to happen?  Why did my wife have to get Alzheimer’s?  Why did my husband have to die in that car wreck?  Why did my son have to commit suicide?  Why did my dad have to lose his job?  The “why” questions are inevitable.  But, this side of heaven, there are very few tidy answers for the many “why” questions that we have.  My theology (which I describe as “inconsistent Calvinist”) believes that God not only knows what will happen in our lives, but He allows it to happen.  Furthermore, God could prevent things from happening — both the bad and the good — but He chooses not to.  It has been that way from the very beginning.  The Old Testament book of Job speaks to that very issue (theodicy), but we get no better answer to the “why” question than Job did.  In the end, we realize, just like Job, that “God is God, and we are not.”

In times of tragedy, it would do us good to remember that we don’t have all the answers.  As a pastor, I’m not sure that I would want those answers anyway.  For the people of Grundy Baptist Church (yes, the church is really about the people), life will go on, but it will never be the same.  When a historic church building burns to the ground or when a spouse dies or a child gets killed in a war, life continues, but it can’t help but be changed.

It is at those crucial times in our life when we have to answer the question:  “Is God good, all the time — All the time, is God good?”  For Grundy Baptist Church, I think I know how they will answer that question.  I know what my answer is.  What about you?

6 comments for “Fire Destroys Grundy, VA Church: Is God Still Good?

  1. Steve Lemke
    December 18, 2011 at 3:31 PM

    I find myself agreeing with your “inconsistent Calvinism,” Howell, with a caveat with which I think you would agree — that God can and does choose to intervene from time to time for His own reasons (consistent with His purposes) to change the course of human history.

    • December 18, 2011 at 8:03 PM

      Dr. Lemke,

      Thanks for taking the time to read and respond. I would completely agree with you that God “can and does choose to intervene” in events. I believe that God is sovereign and is actively at work in our world today. Nothing takes God by surprise. Even in the tragedies of life, God does work all things together for the good to those who love Him and are the called according to His purposes. Hope you have a wonderful Christmas and a blessed New Year. God bless,


  2. Steve Lemke
    December 18, 2011 at 3:36 PM

    I would also want to add that even in such a tragedy, God can bring good out of an otherwise evil event (Gen. 50:20, Rom. 8:28).

  3. Mikaila Smith
    December 20, 2011 at 5:44 PM

    I cannot believe that my church is gone, I have been going there since i was an infant, and i still go to this day, i am 17 now,( you may remember me but i’m not sure, your the pastor who baptized me. ) i was baptized there, i had my first job as secretary there, i am now a teacher there for our nursery, and i truly learned what family, love, and faith is in that church. The building may be gone, but the building didn’t make us a church, the people in it did. Were going to make it! right now our slogan is ‘From these ashes we will rise!’ Please keep us in your prayers.

    • December 20, 2011 at 8:23 PM


      Thanks for reading and sharing your thoughts. I absolutely remember you and your family. Ya’ll were special to us while we were at Grundy. While we were saddened by the devasating loss of the buildings, I know that Grundy Baptist Church — the people — will not only survive, but will come through this stronger than ever and will be a witness to God’s goodness and grace. We will continue to pray for the church. Grundy Baptist will always hold a special place in our hearts. Hope you have a very Merry Christmas and God’s blessings in the New Year! God bless,


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