GAINESVILLE, Ga. (BP)–A $10,000 reward has been offered for information leading to the arrest of an arsonist who burned down a Southern Baptist church building in the north Georgia town of Gainesville.
Investigators said someone broke into the Montgomery Memorial Baptist Church in the early morning hours of June 4 and torched the sanctuary. Officials determined the fire started in the pastor’s office shortly after midnight.
Firefighters were able to save an adjoining education building, but the sanctuary was a total loss, according to Fulton Boswell, pastor of the 1,150 member congregation.
Despite the loss, some 250 members arrived for Sunday morning worship services armed with lawn chairs and umbrellas. A funeral home loaned the church three tents to provide shelter from the rain.
“It was quite moving to see the spirit of the parishioners there,” state insurance commissioner John Oxendine told the Atlanta Journal.
Boswell, 80, told Baptist Press the spirit of the church would not be hindered by the blaze. “That’s why we decided to have our morning worship services outside,” Boswell said. “We wanted to make a statement that says you can’t stop us. We’re on God’s side.”
Boswell said he can’t understand why anyone would want to burn down the church. “We haven’t had any threats or anything,” he said. “But when my telephone rang at 1:05 a.m. and the person said the church was on fire, well, I’ve been afraid to answer the phone ever since,” he said.
Boswell said the church was insured. Officials placed damage estimates at about $700,000.
Anyone with information on the blaze can call Georgia’s arson tip line: 404-282-5804.