By Connie Davis Bushey
News Editor, Baptist and Reflector
CHURCH HILL — Six thousand dollars in reward money is being offered by First Baptist Church, Church Hill, ($5,000) and the Church Hill Police Department ($1,000) for information leading to the arrest and conviction of those responsible for an early Wednesday burglary and fire that may have caused a million dollars in damage to the church, reported The Rogersville Review.
Church Hill Police Chief asked anyone with knowledge of the crime to call police.
The church sustained fire, smoke, and water damage early March 23 apparently after burglars started two fires in the sanctuary.
City policemen responded to a fire alarm at the church at 2:50 a.m. and saw flames inside the sanctuary. They contacted the fire department. The police chief noted that an investigation revealed that the suspect(s) had access to one or more keys to the church. They committed petty vandalism and theft by removing multiple miscellaneous items from the locked music room, but abandoned them outside the church, the newspaper reported.
The suspect(s) also set two fires near the stage/altar. The chief is estimating the damage will exceed a mlllion dollars. Items handled have been sent to the TBI crime lab and police are checking video footage from a nearby business.
Pastor Gary Gerhardt said the 650-seat sanctuary is uninhabitable as well as the children’s department located below the sanctuary which suffered a lot of water damage from the church’s sprinkler system.
The congregation will meet for worship services beginning with this Easter Sunday in the church’s Activities Building though it will have to split and meet in two groups. Easter services will be held at 8:30 and 10:15 a.m. First draws about 450 to Sunday morning activities each week.
The church made this kind of arrangement while the sanctuary was being renovated and enlarged in 2003, explained Gerhardt.
He expects repair of the spaces to be completed by the end of June.
“What the devil always intends to be bad, the Lord always takes and turns into good. That’s what we celebrate on Easter.
“This will draw us closer.”
He has received many phone calls offering support and prayers and even space in which to meet. “The support has just been overwhelming,” stated Gerhardt.