Local News

Members of Church Damaged by Fire Vow to Rebuild, Forgive

Posted April 29, 2007 5:38 p.m. EDT
Updated April 30, 2007 12:50 p.m. EDT

— A Smithfield congregation gathered for services Sunday, one week after the church was destroyed, as church leaders vowed to rebuild.

Even though the doors were locked outside the condemned sanctuary, a steely resolve was in evidence at Whitley Memorial United Methodist Church. Despite the damage, the church members made sure that they celebrated Sunday services inside the one part of the church untouched by fire – the fellowship hall.

“There was no doubt that we needed to be together, as a group, that we needed to,” said church member Amy Outen. “This was a way we could witness.”

It was also a way to confirm that the church will rise again from the ashes.

“We will rebuild,” said Whitley Memorial United Methodist Church pastor Steven Hall. “No doubt. One hundred and fifty percent sure of that.”

Mary Hatcher was the first church member to arrive at the church last Sunday.

“It was so hard, to see the smoke coming from this building, to hear windows popping out, like popcorn,” Hatcher said.

The fellowship hall was the first place that Whitley Memorial United Methodist Church called home. It's also the first church to be built in West Smithfield. It will continue to house Sunday services until a new sanctuary is built at the church.

Police arrested Alvin Parrish, 17, and charged him with intentionally setting the fire. Members of the church said they are opening their hearts to him.

“If we truly believe what we say we believe, God has forgiven us,” said church member Bob Pilkington. “And I truly think we have to forgive him.”

Hall said insurance adjusters are still assessing the total amount of damage. Police have not released a motive in the arson.