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Providence Baptist second Chilton Association church to fall victim to recent firescomment (0)

January 13, 2008

By Grace Thornton

Nearly two years after three college-age men made national news by burning nine Baptist churches in west Alabama, state officials are once again chasing individuals responsible for similar arson attacks.

Just days into 2008, a spate of arson attacks on Woodland Baptist Church in Phenix City, Greater Peace and Goodwill AME Church in Crawford and Greater Bethelpore Baptist Church in Smiths Station — all in the same area of east Alabama — brought the arrests of two 21-year-old men, both professed Satanists.

But still on the loose is the person who set fire to Providence Baptist Church in rural Chilton County Jan. 12, destroying the church’s fellowship hall, education space and church office.

“The officials say they have gotten some really good fingerprints, footprints and tire prints,” said Pastor Allen Foster, noting that his church is thankful that the sanctuary — located just feet from the charred remains of its neighboring buildings — suffered some vandalism but little else.

The arsonists attempted to set fire to the sanctuary on the downstairs level, but the fire burned half a poster of the books of the Bible and went out, Foster said.

Providence Baptist is the second church to burn in Chilton Baptist Association in the last few weeks — its sister congregation, Maple Springs Baptist Church in Clanton, burned in the wee hours of Dec. 29.

Pastor Roland Davis said Jan. 11 that the church was still awaiting word from the state fire marshal on the cause. But after the Providence Baptist fire, the Birmingham News reported that a spokesman for the fire marshal said the cause was “unknown, but suspicious,” pending the results of tests being performed on evidence.

Both fires happened just after 3 a.m.

“We’re just thankful no one was hurt and that we have a place to go home to,” Foster said, speaking of the church’s relatively undamaged sanctuary.

The Providence congregation, emotional but in good spirits, met for services Jan. 13 a couple of miles down the road at Camp Dawson, a facility lent to them by Dawson Memorial Baptist Church in Birmingham.

“We hope if we can get the burned part cleaned up and get the water fixed up to the sanctuary we can meet in our own facilities next week,” Foster said.

The Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions provided both Chilton Association churches — as well as Woodland Baptist in east Alabama — with a check from the disaster relief fund and offered mobile chapels should any be needed.

For now, Maple Springs Baptist’s congregation is meeting in the old sanctuary of nearby Samaria Baptist Church. A building committee has already been chosen so that the church can move forward with plans to rebuild, Davis said.

And Providence plans to do the same soon, Foster said.

“We’ve got lots of decisions to make but we’re going to make them as a family,” he said to the congregation during the service Jan. 13. “We’re going to get through this thing. It’s bigger than you and I but not bigger than the God we serve. It felt like a death, didn’t it? But it wasn’t. The church is still alive.”

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