Nearly a year after an arson attack damaged the church’s main sanctuary, First Baptist Church Montgomery gathered there again July 24 for worship.
Pastor Mark Bethea said he was filled with “great anticipation” as he prepared for the first service back in the sanctuary, which took the brunt of the Sept. 30 arson attack. The church’s reception area also was destroyed and other areas, including historic Stakely Sanctuary, were damaged by fire and smoke. The church met in Stakely during the renovation process.
During the July 24 service, minister of music Ed Cleveland led the congregation in singing “To God Be the Glory,” a hymn church members sang as they gathered in a parking deck, a parking lot and other spaces following the attack.
“Great things He has done, great things He’s still doing and great things He will continue to do,” Bethea said. “We’re going to keep going, we’re going to keep pressing on because great things our eyes have not seen yet.”
Church members took to social media to praise the leadership of Bethea and the FBC staff during the past few months and express their thanks for the worship service.
“It was glorious,” wrote Diane Cook. “The songs just lifted us up in praise to our God that has walked with us every inch of the way!”
“I’ll never forget it,” wrote Ruby Henley.
‘Grace and goodness’
The service included a baptism, a baby dedication and a brief video recap showing the immediate aftermath of the attack and the restoration process, which included extensive repair and cleaning throughout the campus. Highlighted were photos of families writing Bible verses on the concrete just before new carpet was laid in the sanctuary.
“Praise the Lord,” Bethea said.
In a Facebook post following the service, Bethea acknowledged a gift from the Montgomery Chinese Christian Church led by Pastor Dawson Zhang. Following the fire, allegedly set by an Auburn resident and Chinese national, Xiaoqin Yan, the Chinese congregation donated money for flowers for the sanctuary when the church returned there for worship.
“The flowers were beautiful and a testimony to the fellowship of such wonderful believers and friends at the Montgomery Chinese Christian Church,” Bethea wrote.
Writing on Facebook, FBC member Jane Burdeshaw said the flowers were “beautiful and the gift behind them an amazing expression of love for our church family and God’s unifying power.”
He noted FBC’s flower committee met to rearrange the flowers into smaller individual arrangements to take to in-home members and nursing home residents.
“Love seeing God’s moments of grace and goodness all around,” Bethea said.