Rev. Carl Perez standing in the 135-year-old Adams United Methodist Church in Whitesville, Va.
Rev. Carl Perez remembers well the moment he got the phone call telling him his church was on fire.
"I thought well, it must be something small or maybe just a mistake," he says. "By the time I got to the road I could see smoke, and I thought OK, just smoke damage. We can handle that."
But the damage to the 135-year-old Adams United Methodist Church in Whitesville, Va. was much more extensive than he first realized.
"When I got to the front part of the steps, I just saw the flames just come right out and shoot to the roof," he says. "It was just one of those weird feelings of just, despair."
The fire occurred in Accomack County, which has seen nearly 80 arsons in recent months. But fire officials determined the blaze at Adams United was caused by electrical problems, not an arsonist.
Perez says the church lost a lot of its history in the incident.
"The pulpit furniture is the original pulpit furniture from when they got it in 1925, and so that's been very hard for us to look at, especially when the seats are burned and the altar's charred and things like that," he says. "There are some things that we found that were buried, so we were able to give some of those mementos back to the families that donated them."
Volunteers have traveled to Whitesville from across the region to help the congregation, and Perez says Adams United will rebuild its sanctuary. But the loss of its historic space is still painful for the congregation.
"You get to this site and you just revisit the memories, the fun times: Easters, Thanksgivings, Christmas times," he says. "And then you look at what you see here, and something's missing. And that something is the building. People say the church is the people, and that is true. But the people gather in the building."
[Music: "Have a Little Faith In Me" by Bill Frisell from Have a Little Faith]