A fire in the social hall attic of St. Patrick's Catholic Church forced the congregation outside just before 9 a.m. Mass on Sunday. A lightning strike on the roof overnight may have ignited a small fire, which smoldered until church member Paul Mumford saw flames about 8:45 a.m.

"I smelled smoke. When I first started looking I couldn't see it. Later I could see flames," Mumford said.

Those attending the Mass were moved outside and an abbreviated service was said as about 50 members stood or sat in folding chairs.

"It was a very basic Mass, a field Mass," parishioner Patty Pascua said.

Damage was minor and mainly confined to the roof and ceiling, Tampa Fire Rescue Capt. Frank Wells said. The fire was under control about 20 minutes after about 40 firefighters arrived with 11 vehicles.

The fire department used a truck-mounted machine to vent smoke from the church, which is attached to the social hall where the fire started.

The 11 a.m. Mass was held as usual inside the church, the Rev. Angelus Migliore said.

"God blessed us. It was discovered before serious damage happened," he said.

Wells said the cause was under investigation but it appeared to be a lightning strike. A thunderstorm was over MacDill Air Force Base near the church about 3 a.m.

Wells said firefighters had to go through the roof and up through the ceiling to extinguish the fire. They placed plastic over the opening in the roof.

It was fortunate that the fire started burning at a time people were around to notice, Wells said. Otherwise it might have burned for hours before being discovered.

That's what happened at St. Lawrence Catholic Church in November, when fire from an electric candle stand caused smoke and soot damage that closed the building for five months.

At St. Patrick's, parishioners who went through the impromptu outside Mass were able to make light of the fire.

"I said we won't pray that hard again," said Dave Lively, attending with his wife, Andrea, and son Aaron. "Father won't like it if we blow another hole in the roof."