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Hilltowns Archives —The Altamont Enterprise, July 3, 2008

Rock Road Chapel burns
Pastor says, “We’ve got to pray and weep and then get up and work.”

By Tyler Schuling

KNOX — A church isn’t just a building. 

This is the message Pastor Jay T. Francis has been sharing this week.

On Saturday morning, the Rock Road Chapel in Knox, a church he founded decades ago, was engulfed in flames.  Since, he has received between 60 to 70 phone calls each day, and churches in the area have offered him their sanctuaries to hold services.

 “Emotionally, it was a draining day, but, you know, the church is not the building.  It’s the people.  So we’ve got to go on,” said Francis.  “In the Capital District and all the Hilltowns, people are very supportive…saying, ‘You should build again and we need you’ and all those types of things.  So we were real appreciative of nine fire companies fighting the fire, and, even during that, people were saying they felt bad for it and want to see it restored or rebuilt.” 

The destruction caused by the fire and water is extensive.  Windows are broken.  Mud cakes the floors.  Electrical wiring droops lazily from the walls and ceilings.  Insulation is strewn throughout the building.  Among the ruins: keyboards, computers, chairs, movies, training videos, pianos, guitars, sound systems, hymnals, Bibles, and reference books. 

Francis, who became a Christian when he was 17, started the church as a Bible study in a house in 1965; the Rock Road Chapel was built in 1979. 

On Tuesday, Francis was on the second floor of the church, in what had been the youth room, sifting through old books, now soaked and burned, with his brother, Wally.  They were performing an inventory and assessing the damage for the church’s insurance company, salvaging what they could.  They were industrious and resilient, showing no signs of defeat, sadness, or fatigue as they picked through the rubble.


On Saturday morning, as many residents in this rural community were preparing to drive to Albany for Berne-Knox-Westerlo’s graduation ceremony, the fire started.  Firefighters from multiple agencies fought the fire throughout the day.  The call came in at about 8:45 a.m.

“It was pretty progressive when we received the call in,” said Holly Clark, chief of the Berne Volunteer Fire Company.

“It was already very hot when we arrived at the scene so we could not put anybody inside for quite some time until we could get it cooled down,” she said. 

Clark outlined conditions at the scene and the difficulties firefighters faced.

“Because of the building being metal construction, it just held the heat in,” she said.  And, Clark said, a ladder truck was called to the scene because the firefighters could not enter the building.

“And, of course, being that this was a warm, muggy day, we had to have [rehabilitation support services] in for the firefighters — and that took a lot longer — because people were just getting overwhelmed due to the heat,” she said.

 “Everything was against us from the go,” said Clark.  “There was also a breeze.  That doesn’t help.”

Departments that provided mutual aid returned to their quarters around 3:30 to 4 p.m. that afternoon.  The Berne Fire District stayed on the scene until 8:30 p.m. with investigators.

Clark could not comment on the cause of the fire.  It is being investigated by the Albany County Sheriff’s Department.  The department could not be reached for comment. 

Rebuilding and working

Plans are now underway to demolish the building and, with volunteer help, to have a new one built by Christmas. 

“I’d like to see something that looks better and is more adequate and more up-to-date than this was so that we can minister to the people more effectively,” Francis said. 

The Rock Road Chapel ministers to more than 100 people. 

“We’d like to rebuild even though we don’t have enough insurance,” he said.  “That’s why we’re going to do a lot ourselves.  We’d like to rebuild without a mortgage because, with today’s economy, I don’t want a little church to take on a mortgage.”

The day after the fire, Francis preached next door, from the basement of International Accelerated Ministries’ Mission House, the chapel’s sister church. 

His message: Keep bearing fruit.  Press on. 

This Sunday, Francis and Rock Road Chapel’s congregation will meet again at the Mission House.  Francis plans to speak from the Book of Nehemiah.

“Jerusalem was in destruction and Nehemiah prayed, wept, spoke to the people, and the people said, ‘We will arise and build,’” said Francis.  “We’ve got to pray and weep and then get up and work.”

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