Church fires spark sadness, prayers

Published 2:58 am Tuesday, January 16, 2007

By Staff
Pastors believe their churches could be targeted as well
Baptist ministers in Beaufort County said they learned about the destruction to three Baptist churches in Greenville before worship services Sunday and changed their programs to include prayers for those affected.
The Memorial Baptist Church on Southeast Greenville Boulevard and Unity Free Will Baptist Church on East 14th Street in Greenville caught fire late Saturday night. Memorial sustained most of the damage, which was estimated at $1 million.
The fire at Unity, which is about a mile away from Memorial, was contained to a single room. The damage was estimated at $30,000 to $40,000. Authorities ruled the fires as suspicious and are investigating the possibility of arson.
There was also a break-in at the Oakmont Baptist Church on Red Banks Road in Greenville around the same time Saturday night. Oakmont is less than three-quaters of a mile from Memorial.
Pastor Richard Sheriff of the First Baptist Church in Chocowinity said their planned worship service was canceled Sunday when he received the news. Instead, Sheriff said he led the congregation outside to gather around the building and worship.
Pastor Phillip Hayes of the Second Baptist Church in Washington said, “We took time … for a special prayer for all the churches.”
Pastor Jimmy Moore of First Baptist Church in Washington said he led special prayers Sunday for those affected during his 8:30 a.m. and his 11 a.m. services.
Chocowinity First Baptist, Washington First Baptist, and Second Baptist in Washington are members of the South Roanoke Baptist Association along with Memorial and Oakmont in Greenville. The association’s headquarters is in Greenville, according to the Web site.
Unity Free Will Baptist Church is not apart of the association.
Hayes said he visited the Memorial church in Greenville Sunday afternoon to view the damage firsthand. “It was totally devastated,” he said. Hayes described the destruction to his congregation during his Sunday night service.
Hayes said The Memorial Baptist Church had a day-care facility was destroyed in the fire. “It was the largest in the state (with) over 200 children in the program.”
Hayes asked, “What are they going to do with those children? Most day cares have a waiting list.”
He said the actions are going to affect a lot of people. “It’s going to affect all denominations in Greenville. They are concerned someone will come to their churches. We’re concerned, too. We’re not too far away.”
Moore said he knew the pastors at Memorial Baptist Church and Oakmont. He met Randy Mcyleny of Memorial through the association. “Greg Rodgers at Oakmont — we have been friends for many years,” he said.
Moore said his congregation was “shocked and sad.”
Sheriff said he didn’t know the Greenville pastors personally, but also felt sad by the news. “My first thought is these people that committed these horrible acts need a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, but I am also saddened for the congregations, for the disruption in the way they … worship our God.”
Sheriff said he had a responsibility to “show the love of Christ, not animosity or revenge.”
Moore said he felt the arsonist “were very organized” and guessed that his or her motivation was “to see something destroyed.” He thought the incidents could have been gang related.
Hayes said, “I don’t know what they had hoped to gain. … just meanness. … just for the sake of seeing them burn.”