Members of St Therese's Catholic church in Bethlehem are grieving the loss of the church, which burnt down in suspicious circumstances.
The blaze tore through the building late on Thursday night and police and the fire service are investigating its cause.
The heat of the fire split columns in two and turned everything inside to lumps of charred wood.
Local kaumatua Karora Smith said the community was still coming to terms with the loss.
"We're in a grieving mood," he said.
"It's a sad thing."
It was not just the church community but the wider community who used the building that would be affected, he said.
Mr Smith said the chapel was built about 40 years ago when the congregation outgrew the small church building at the marae.
Despite the challenges ahead, Mr Smith said he was looking at it as a chance to grow as a community and go on to bigger and better things.
St Joseph's parish priest Father Hemi Hekiera, who oversees St Therese's, said the local people he had spoken to were "quite upset" but coping well.
"The Maori carvings in that building have been destroyed and all the Maori taonga there," he said.
A Sunday service that attracted between 60 and 100 people was held in the building once a month and an Anglican service was also held there once a month, Father Hekiera said.
"The once a month we have is pretty full on, it's pretty full. It's a Maori service we have there."
Erana and Peter Bidois were watching a movie at a relative's house opposite the building when they noticed an orange flame coming from one of the windows about 11pm on Thursday.
"Within seconds the whole thing just went up in flames. The heat from it was just crazy," Mrs Bidois said.
"It was silent but all you could hear was just popping, the windows popping.
"It was huge. The whole thing just looked like a ball of fire."
Locals looked on from outside the police cordon as detectives interviewed witnesses and scoured the scene yesterday morning.
Tauranga fire safety risk management officer Bill Rackham was at the scene beginning his investigation yesterday.
"We're treating it as suspicious. It doesn't appear that there was a forced entry. It appears that it was left open [Thursday] night," he said.
Mr Rackham said the cause was not clear and he would be resuming his investigation at the scene on Monday.
The building would most likely have to be demolished completely.
Firefighters were also called to two other fires in the early hours of yesterday morning.
Tauranga Fire Brigade senior station officer Nigel Liddicoat said the crew was called to a truck-and-trailer unit that caught fire near Kaimai School on State Highway 29 about 5am yesterday and caused the road to be closed.
He said the truck was well alight by the time firefighters arrived and the cause appeared to be overheated brakes.
"The driver talked about sparks coming out of the back end of the truck," he said.
The truck was destroyed but the trailer, which was carrying an assortment of items including ceiling tiles, tools and aluminium cables, was saved.
There were no injuries in the blaze, police said.
Firefighters were also called to a shelter belt fire on Wood Rd in Oropi about 5.20am this morning. They were there for about 90 minutes.