LONG VIEW, N.C.-- Flames destroyed a church near Hickory early Sunday morning, and church members are already vowing to rebuild.

Dozens of members who grew up in the historic Penelope Baptist Church in Long View stood outside Sunday, sharing memories and shedding tears, as fire investigators picked through the rubble.

"I was in the first service in that building and just about every one since then," said 80-year-old Wade Shepherd, who was nine when the "new" sanctuary opened for services.

He looked over a local newspaper from September 1939 - around the time the sanctuary opened - and found a listing for services there. The front of the paper blared headlines about France and England deciding whether to enter World War II.

Shepherd and a church archivist also pointed out people they knew in a photo taken in front of the church that same year. Boxes of old photos and artifacts were rescued from the building before flames and water could damage them. Shepherd then turned to look at the burned sanctuary, which is now a collection of free-standing walls surrounded by piles of bricks.

"It's very distressing to see that," said Shepherd, "after the years I've been here."

Myrtle Dale remembers going to the church when she was 5, and starting piano lessons there as a young girl. She later served as the church organist for many years.

"All three of our children gave their hearts to the Lord here, and were baptized here -- dedicated their children here," said Dale, as she stared in disbelief at what was left.

"I couldn't believe it was happening. It was just a very sad thing," said Dale.

The fire didn't stop worship services at the church Sunday morning. The congregation moved to the gym, where they returned for another prayer service Sunday night.

Pastor Grinnell reminded members that this would not stop the church's missions, which first began in 1888 in another church building.

"This church came through the Great Depression, it came through the world wars, they're going to come through this great, too," he said.

Investigators from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms and the State Bureau of Investigation will return to the church Monday morning to try to find the fire's cause. Demolition crews must first knock down the sanctuary's remaining walls for the investigators' safety.

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