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Moundville’s Pleasant Hill Church goes up in flames day after being robbedcomment (0)

April 30, 2009

By Grace Thornton

When Kenton Cunningham turned off the nightly news at 10:30 April 14, he told his wife he just felt as if he needed to go check on the church.

He had been up there “a good bit” that day already with the sheriff’s department — the night before, the church, Pleasant Hill Baptist, Moundville, had been robbed.

“They got a bunch of TVs, DVD players, VCRs, electronics — stuff like that,” said Cunningham, a deacon at the Hale Baptist Association church.

Everything looked normal when he drove up in the church parking lot that night. Another church member who’d had the same idea pulled up at just about the same time as Cunningham, and the two decided just to go on in and spend some time in prayer for the church, for its future.

“With all that had gone on with the burglary, we just wanted to do some praying,” he said.

But their prayer effort became even more immediate than they had originally planned when they swung open the doors and found a blaze.

“We saw the smoke and felt the heat,” he said. “We called 911 and we tried to put it out.”

Despite their quick response, saving the buildings was a lost cause.

“It burned it to the ground — destroyed it completely,” Cunningham said.

The church had been built in wings, with a sanctuary and then a building with a fellowship hall in the basement beneath Sunday School space. The congregation had been renovating both buildings for several years and had just finished the project earlier this year.

The fact that fires were started in both wings made the authorities suspicious of arson — that and the robbery the night before, Cunningham said.

But the people of Pleasant Hill Baptist aren’t letting all that get them discouraged. Before the fire, Cunningham said, “the Lord was really working and moving ... that’s when the devil’s going to work the hardest. We were seeing people coming back to church, especially young families with children.”

And the congregation, which runs about 40 or 45 on Sundays, doesn’t anticipate that growth stopping.

“There’s an upbeat attitude among all the members — there’s no gloom or despair,” said Pastor Chuck Weaver. “We’re looking forward to what the Lord’s going to do.”

Since the fire, the church has been meeting with local congregations, but at press time, Pleasant Hill was set to receive a mobile chapel from the Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions on April 29 — just in time for its homecoming celebration May 3.

“But if we don’t have it by then, we’ve got plans made to meet in tents and have an old-fashioned homecoming,” Weaver said.

Alabama Baptists have been so gracious and offered so much help, Cunningham said. And others have reached out, too, including one Catholic church in Tuscaloosa that gave Pleasant Hill a number of pews.

“We’re going to build back,” Cunningham said, noting that a building committee has already been formed and is working on drawing up plans. “We feel like Job — like the Lord counted us worthy to go through this hardship. We don’t want to turn away.”

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