Up in smoke

Published 3:19 am Wednesday, January 17, 2007

By Staff
The culprit(s) behind Saturday’s church fires and break-in in Greenville might have intended to set off a wave of despair in that city and in the religious community of this region. But we believe the weekend incidents will serve only to spark a deeper level of caring.
When ministers here in Beaufort County and in congregations throughout the region learned about the fates of the churches, they didn’t simply shake their heads and go on about their business. Far and wide, worship services Sunday included prayers for the victims of the incidents.
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. During the same period of time, someone broke into nearby Oakmont Baptist Church on Red Banks Road.
The financial impact of the fires is staggering. Memorial, which was essentially a total loss, sustained $1 million in damage. A day-care facility for 200 children there was destroyed. The single-room fire at nearby Unity caused around $35,000 in damage.
But that’s only money. As one of the ministers from an affected church said, destroying the building does not destroy the church body.
We are confident that the children who attended the former day care will find other locations to welcome them, even if that means people must open their homes to receive them. The losses, while difficult to swallow, will make the church members and their neighbors in other congregations stronger in the long run.
Richard Sheriff, the minister at First Baptist Church in Chocowinity, said he modified the worship service there Sunday after he learned about the fires. He led the congregation outside.
He said they also prayed for their neighbors in Greenville.
Meanwhile, Phillip Hayes of Second Baptist Church in Washington said his congregation was in a similar frame of mind. “We took time … for a special prayer for all the churches,” he said in an interview.
Pastor Jimmy Moore of First Baptist Church in Washington said he led special prayers Sunday for the victims during the church’s two morning services.
Does the idea that something like this could happen so close to home worry people here? Absolutely.
But does that mean that members of churches in neighboring counties are going to just stay in their homes and worry? Absolutely not.
They’re “shocked and sad,” as Moore said. But they will carry on and rally around their neighbors — with both words and deeds.
If the suspected arsonists were hoping that fear would ripple through this area and make members of all congregations second-guess their faith, well, that plan went up in smoke.