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Flames destroy church in Susquehanna County

Neighbors believe the weather is to blame for a fire that destroyed a church in Susquehanna County.

SOUTH MONTROSE, Pa. — Crews were called to the South Montrose Community Church just after 11 p.m. Thursday. 

They found flames shooting from the roof when they got to the church on Route 29 in Bridgewater Township near Montrose. 

The chief believes it was hit by lightning. 

People who live nearby say they heard a loud crash then saw smoke. 

It quickly went to a second alarm. 

The church was built in the 1940s. 

It was destroyed in the fire. 

Parishioners showed up to pray outside, and crews tried to save some of the stained glass windows. 

"We also are grateful no one got hurt. That no one was here, but we'll just have to get together and talk about our options," said South Montrose Community Church Pastor Laura Kincaid. "The church continues whether we have the building or not."

The pastor says, for now, they will worship outside while they make plans to rebuild.

"This is a church with tremendous spirit and faith. This isn't going to set us back, as grieved as we are. We will continue to worship and look at our options for rebuilding, and the church goes on because the church isn't the building. The church is the people," added Kincaid.

In the light of day, the severity of the damage to the church is apparent.

The roof crumbled, and debris is everywhere, with the smell of smoke still lingering in the morning air.

Church members who had just heard about the fire came to see it for themselves.

"I was devastated. I cannot believe the damage that has been done to our property," said Mary Jane Long. "We're going to need a lot of work and a lot of volunteers."

"We're in a state of shock, but as they posted on Facebook this morning, the building isn't the church; it's the people," said Joe Borrelli.

This fire couldn't have happened at a worse time for the church. They hold the food drive every second Friday of the month.

"We serve 250 to 300 people at the food distribution, so we have a little bit of work ahead of us, but we'll make it happen," Borrelli said.

"We're going to be moving down to Antol's Drive-in, a parking lot next to there, and we're going to try to serve everybody the same as we always have," said Long.

Church members say their congregation may be small, but their faith hasn't wavered even with this tragedy, and they have hope for the church's future.

"I hope that the good Lord is behind us and helps us get it rebuilt as quickly as possible," Long added.

A state police fire investigator believes the fire was started by a lightning strike.