CHESAPEAKE, Va. - One hundred-fifty years of church history is scheduled for demolition after a fire ripped through the building.
On Thursday, a demolition crew gathered on the site to begin the work of tearing down what remained of the church.
"It's a sad day today. I never thought I'd see the church's closing in the first place," Carlton Baldwin, a church congregant, said.
It is also a moment that no one from Gabriel Chapel A.M.E Zion Church would have ever thought they'd see.
A small number of congregants gathered on the parking lot with lawn chairs to watch the demolition of the church they attended for years.
"This is really a tough day,” Sandi Hutchinson, the church’s pastor, said. “To watch it burn was one thing, but then today, to see the remainder demolished, is also heart-wrenching."
The church caught fire in August after it was determined lightning struck the structure. Beneath the bricks and charred debris, hope has sparked as certain items were found.
"It's almost like an archaeological dig,” Hutchinson said. “To be able to find any remnant is extremely important."
The demolition crew searched through the site before work started. They found a couple of artifacts, such as pages from a Bible that are still readable, pieces of glass shards and the building's original nails.
"We're going to have those preserved in a frame, I'm going to have an artist put those pieces together,” Hutchinson said, explaining this will serve as a memorial.
The congregants watched the demolition begin and the excavator drove its front bucket through the debris. They felt a level of grief, as many of them are part of generations of congregants that have attended the church.
"It is a true grieving process with the loss of anything,” Hutchinson said.
Both she and the congregants said they are optimistic and look forward to the new church that will rise from the ashes.
"As the pastor, I have to be the cheerleader and say we have to expect the great and look to see what God is going to do next,” Hutchinson said.