Churches cope with fire

The criminal investigation is ongoing for the Jan. 19 arson of First Baptist Church Temple.

First Baptist is just one of eleven church arsons since the beginning of the year.

Jason Robert Bourque and Daniel George McAllister were charged with the arson of Dover Baptist Church in Tyler, Texas, in February. The duo may have also been involved with up to nine other church fires, but they are not suspected in the Temple fire.

Another church, Community of the Servant-Savior Presbyterian Church in Houston, Texas, was set ablaze April 8. The fire left only piles of rubble. Many wonder who would burn down places of worship and why.

UMHB Professor of psychology Cecilia Erlund said, “That’s probably not somebody’s first attempt at something. It has probably progressed over time.”

Arsonists usually begin with creating small fires, and then later move forward to bigger, more harmful ventures.

“Someone who is attacking just a building, if that’s all it is, is looking at the excitement, looking at the power they may have had to do something, — even if it’s anonymous, — that brings out a number of police cars, sirens and fire trucks,” Erlund said.

Perpetrators of arson enjoy having “power over an entire community,” she said. “They sit back and watch.”

And while Erlund said, “there are a lot of things that happen that cause people to do this,” a few common denominators usually appear.

She said, “Anytime you see somebody who had lost a lot, like losing a parent or a close friend or the divorce of parents — anything that disrupts the normal day-to- day life of a child who may not be very secure in the fi rst place — that child needs to be paid attention to.”

Erlund stressed the importance of not creating a “self-fulfi lling prophecy,” but that caring and extra attention should be given by a community of people in positive ways.

Student serves in local church.

Sophomore church music major Nick Arbuckle leads worship for the contemporary service at First Baptist Temple. He remembers getting a call about 7 a.m. telling him the sanctuary had been destroyed.

Arbuckle said, “My initial response was shocked kind of, you know, I didn’t
really understand exactly what that meant. ‘OK, the sanctuary burned down. So now what? What happens this Sunday because we still have to do it?’”

While the church members plan to rebuild, Arbuckle said

“I don’t know what would motivate someone.”

FBC might have been targeted because it’s a central point of downtown.

He said “If you were going to choose Temple, Texas, you would choose that one because it’s such a main focus in the area.”

However, he can see God at work in the midst of loss.

“I think it’s been awesome just to see God move through all this kind of stuff,” Arbuckle said. “He’s been doing really cool things there, just … making them uncomfortable, to find Him.”

Community assists congregation.

Assistant Professor of music Deborah Jones has been a member of FBC for 43 years.

Jones and her husband’s conversation was interrupted the morning of the fire when they overheard the television news reporter say “breaking news.” The couple watched in shock as the screen showed a picture of their church ablaze.

“It’s a loss. We have lost a real important part of our lives,” Jones said. “I mean, I married there. Our kids married there. My kids were baptized there. My husband was baptized there. I’ve played the piano there for the church for 35 years.”

They spent countless hours in the church, but she is reminded of a simple

“A huge percentage of my life has been spent in that building … (but) it is
not the church. We are the church, and we know that.”

A benefit concert comprised of 11 area church choirs of diverse denominations was held at the Frank W. Mayborn Civic and Convention Center in Temple April 18.

An offering was collected to help offset the costs insurance doesn’t cover.
That’s just one of the many examples of ways the area is wrapping its arms around the congregation.

Jones said, “The community response has been overwhelming – probably the biggest blessing for us as a church. I think anytime you have challenges or
tragedies, if you let God, he pulls you together and makes you stronger. I see a lot of that happening – a whole lot.”

The perpetrators may not have planned on the ways a destroyed building
could bring unity to a church and a community, but Erland said arsonists
usually begin small.

They start by “setting fires at home and getting by with it and not getting
caught, not damaging too much, but getting a little excited about it. That adrenaline rush feels good, so it reinforces it, particularly if they don’t get caught.”

She said it’s not likely the arsonists will confess.

“They don’t usually come forward, but they usually get caught eventually.”

Author: Kennan Neuman

Kennan Neuman is a senior mass communication/journalism major with a minor in Christian studies from the small town of Devine, Texas. She is the assistant editor and loves writing stories and designing pages. She also enjoys playing guitar for friends, the girls’ Bible study on Thursday nights and the youth at HBC in Temple. She loves reading a good Lucado book while on the back porch at home, drinking sweet tea and mastering Sudoku puzzles. She also enjoys having a “girls’ night out” and conversations at coffee shops.

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