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N.C. Church Copes with Arson, Looks to Future

For members of The Memorial Baptist Church, their usual Sunday gathering started as an information session, became a business meeting and ended as a worship service.
( [email protected] ) Jan 22, 2007 03:55 PM EST

GREENVILLE, N.C. (AP) - For members of The Memorial Baptist Church, their usual Sunday gathering started as an information session, became a business meeting and ended as a worship service.

With their church facility nearly demolished by arson, members of The Memorial gathered Sunday at Cornerstone Missionary Baptist Church across town.

Tommy Little, chairman of the deacons at The Memorial, started the service with an update on their church recovery: Some church books and documents have been salvaged; the sanctuary carpet's gone; the stained glass windows are intact; the pews are a total loss.

The Jan. 13 fire caused more than $1 million in damage and destroyed more than half of the church's facilities.

Authorities have ruled that the fire at The Memorial — and a second, smaller fire at nearby Unity Free Will Baptist Church — were purposely started within one hour of each other. A third church nearby reported a break-in.

Investigators with the FBI, the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, and the State Bureau of Investigation are all aiding local authorities in the case. Local authorities have stepped up patrols of local churches.

Looking to the future, the congregation voted — using "amen" in place of "aye" — to establish a special account for insurance proceeds and to waive the church's limit on expenditures that can be approved by a finance team.

Walter Byrum, The Memorial's minister of music, later led the congregation in singing "Jesus Is the Friend You Need," a hymn he said was found floating outside of The Memorial after the Jan. 13 fire.

Randy McKinney, senior pastor at The Memorial, praised the congregation and other community churches for supporting each other. Members of the church have already called for forgiveness for the people who started the fires.

"People are just excited about what the future holds," McKinney said.

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