Talladega County church grows after Oct. 8 firecomment (0)
February 1, 2007
By Grace Thornton
Just weeks ago, Pastor Dennis Elliott walked into the Talladega County Courthouse in Talladega and made his way up to the table where 18-year-old Randy Lee Jones Jr. sat handcuffed.
Jones, along with Preston DeWayne Lindenthaler, was charged with arson just days after an Oct. 8, 2006, fire consumed the main building of Elliott’s church, Rocky Mount Baptist near Sylacauga. After getting out on bond, Jones was arrested again in November 2006 on charges of firing five shots into a mobile home — two of which hit a 13-year-old boy.
There in the courtroom, Elliott looked at Jones and then asked his lawyer, “Can I give him a picture?”
When the lawyer said yes, Elliott handed Jones a photo of Rocky Mount’s sanctuary and steeple — a snapshot of the way they looked just before Jones allegedly burned them to the ground. “[W]hen he stood before the judge, he put his arm around his mother and was holding onto that photograph,” Elliott said. “I hope that the Lord might touch him and he might think about what’s happened and come to know Christ.”
Though the sanctuary and steeple are gone and the debris has yet to be moved from the place where it fell charred, the Coosa River Baptist Association church is still going strong. Attendance has risen about 20 percent at Rocky Mount’s weekly meetings, held in the family fellowship building that survived. And the membership — about 50 — gave a little more than $1,000 to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for international missions this past December. “There’s ... a good spirit and we thank the Lord for Alabama Baptists and their generous response,” Elliott said.
Since the fire, Rocky Mount has received about $7,000 from people, churches and entities. “A gentleman from Birmingham gave us a piano, and Calvary Baptist in Vincent gave us pulpit furniture,” he said.
The congregation is focusing on rebuilding, planning to remove the debris in the coming weeks and break ground on a new sanctuary in early summer. Elliott said the church hopes to build back its 3,000-square-foot facility using donated money and the $275,000 settlement from the insurance company. And church members and others will keep praying for the two charged with setting the fire, as well as reaching out to them, he added.
For instance, when Joe Cates, a member of Mount Sharon Baptist Church, Childersburg, in Coosa River Association, went into an overcrowded pod of the county jail in Talladega several weeks ago for the Bible study he’s led since 1978, he recognized Lindenthaler near his feet on a mattress, trying to sleep. “He’s been there (at the Bible study) almost every week ever since,” Cates said. And though Lindenthaler hasn’t been responsive yet, Cates noted that attendance at the Bible study is voluntary.
“How wonderful if we could open our arms to them (Lindenthaler and Jones) and they would be saved,” Elliott said. “The Lord works in mysterious ways.”