On Saturday, Jan. 7, the New Horizons Baptist Church opened its doors to the community for a free showing of the movie "Courageous."

On Saturday, Jan. 7, the New Horizons Baptist Church opened its doors to the community for a free showing of the movie "Courageous."

Three days later, that message would be tested. Pastor Roger Williams never imagined his church would become a target.

"About 4 o'clock in the morning Tuesday is when a deputy was pounding on our door," Williams said. "We have a fan in our bedroom, so it's pretty loud. My wife looks out the window and sees flames protruding from the top of the roof. She blurts out, 'The church is on fire.'"

Williams said with the deputy at the door they could hear the fire trucks making their way to the scene. And they started making phone calls.

"Within a half-hour, we had a lot of our church family here," he said. "It's still dark and we're all watching everything happen."

The church building was a total loss. Williams lost 17 years of sermon notes in the fire.

The church started in 1975 under a different name and with a different pastor. The church name had already been changed to New Horizons when Williams became the pastor in 2006. The congregation totals 150 members. Many of them showed up that morning.

"When everybody left the scene and the last firefighter had left, it brought me to tears," Williams said. "I walked into the back where I would have stood to preach on Sunday morning and I meticulously scanned the entire audience. I thought about where people sit in the sanctuary. I thought about what decisions people made (in the church), marriages that were rekindled, lives that were touched, teenagers that were making proclamations to be courageous."

As Tuesday unfolded, Agape pastor Gene Miller came to see Williams and told him the Mill Valley Elementary School was available to rent for service. Agape used to hold services at the school but recently moved to the new Hope Center on Chestnut Street.

"I thought, 'Wow - it's not very easy to find something that quick.' I'm sure the Lord has something to do with making sure this transition would be smoother under the circumstances," Williams said.

New Horizons held its first service after the fire at Mill Valley Elementary.

"We had a great service this past Sunday," Williams said. "You would have not thought this was our first time. Churches poured out. They gave us sound equipment, helped set it up, so when we met this Sunday for our first time, it went off without a hitch. It was great."

The message he delivered was about surviving the storms of life.

"How we handle obstacles will either prevent us or prepare us for the opportunities that lie ahead," Williams said. "We can either go to a corner and hide and cry or we can stand strong, stand together, stand united and determine how we're going to move forward."

Williams said he never asked the obvious question.

"My first conversation in prayer with the Lord (after the fire), surprisingly wasn't 'why,' it was more 'what'" he said. "I've challenged our church to seize every opportunity that God brings our way in 2012. That was the message at the beginning of the year. God didn't set the church on fire but God was going to use this opportunity to test us to make a difference."

He said they may even make a difference in the man accused of setting the fire.

Stephen Beightler, 30, of Philadelphia, Pa., is in jail on a $1-million bond facing charges of arson and receiving stolen property. The Union County Sheriff's Office says Beightler was found outside the church sitting on a swing set when deputies arrived. Authorities say Beightler stole a BMW and drove it into the church.

The Union County Prosecutor's Office confirmed reports that authorities have records indicating Beightler was upset with the church over something that happened when he was very young and lived in the area.

The prosecutor's office has not released Beightler's records, saying they "contain the identity of an uncharged suspect. While the name of the alleged suspect could be redacted from the report, the balance of the report still involves private information concerning a sexual assault. ... However, the allegations do not involve the congregation that currently owns the church burned in the fire...the New Horizon Baptist Church."

"Our whole church is stumped," Williams said. "It's a whole different church than what existed back then and a different pastor, obviously. This is the normal assumption that people have is - this is a pain he's been carrying around for 26 years. My heart does go out to him. I hate what he did. We certainly wouldn't have wanted this to happen to our church but we don't have animosity towards him personally or anger towards him.

"In fact, if anything we'd like to extend a hand to him. Is there something we can do - counseling or something to help him in any way. We'll see how things unfold."

Williams said he and church leaders plan to follow the court process.

"The law will do what it needs to do and we're going to support that whatever the outcome," he said. "I think there are people who are still hurting inside, but as a pastor of this church I've already found it in my heart to forgive the man."

Williams said he asked the members of the church to forgive him also.

"Wherever he's at in his life spiritually, mentally, we certainly hope he gets the help he needs," said Williams.

Church leaders are meeting to determine the next steps toward rebuilding the church. Demolition started Jan. 19 and they are anxious to clear the debris and start anew.

"Our first priority is our community," Williams said. "We still want to work hard at reaching people and helping people. This is an opportunity for us to say, 'OK, what do we have and what do we need to be more of an impact in our community. I think at the end of this year, we're going to see more devoted, more dedicated, more committed people. We're not about building a church, we're about building a people."

The Sunday before the fire turned their church upside down, Williams challenged his congregation, not knowing just how far their courage would be tested.

"We need to be courageous in our homes, we need to be courageous in our community," he said. "This was the platform from which we were going to be building 2012.

"That's still the same message. We're going to be courageous and still stand strong. We're going to keep staying on our feet and keep moving forward."