Montgomery church holds service in parking deck following suspected arson

Hundreds of churchgoers gathered for worship on the first level of a Scott Street parking deck...
Hundreds of churchgoers gathered for worship on the first level of a Scott Street parking deck on Oct. 3, 2021.(Source: WSFA)
Published: Oct. 3, 2021 at 1:18 PM CDT
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MONTGOMERY, Ala. (WSFA) - The sound of voices echoed throughout a Scott Street parking deck Sunday as worshipers sang in lawn chairs after someone is believed to have set several fires within their beloved church just days prior.

“The church has never been about pews or walls,” First Baptist Church Montgomery’s pastor, Mark Bethea, said. “It’s been about the people of God doing the mission of God in their life.”

Bethea said someone deliberately set four fires inside the building. Flames began around 2:30 a.m. Thursday.

Church leaders originally planned on hosting worship in a parking lot across the street from the church, but the service was once again moved to the parking deck after the threat of potential rain.

“The rain has brought us into the parking deck and ended up being a beautiful morning of worship,” Bethea said.

Despite having to remain flexible, hundreds gathered to hear the pastor’s message on how “nothing stands against the cross of Jesus.” Believers then celebrated through partaking in the Lord’s Supper.

“The voices just beautifully lifted up to the Lord and took communion together,” he added. “So it’s been a beautiful day, despite everything that’s happened.”

Member Sarah Grace Stone came for choir Wednesday night, just hours before the flames were ignited.

“That next morning, I got to work, and I found out that the room that we had literally been in, that everbody walked through the day before that had been arsoned,” Stone said.

“Which is very sad, because I grew up here and I have a lot of memories there,” she added. “It’s just shocking that someone would do something like that.”

Cleanup crews are going to spend the next few weeks ridding the church of smoke while repairs are made. As of Sunday, church leaders are unaware of how much longer service will remain remote.

“So tomorrow, we’ll get together with our team and try to chart a plan of what it looks like to go forward right now. We don’t know,” Bethea said.

While damage is done, the pastor is thankful for those who have stepped up to help during this uncertain time.

“Thank you to our firefighters, first responders and our community of faith in the city of Montgomery,” he said. “They’ve been so gracious, so kind.”

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