By Tamica Smith Jeuitt, Senior Communications Specialist, Mississippi Conference
Photo right: Investigators believe the fire was set in the pulpit at Tabernacle UMC in Meridian, Miss. The church is approximately 130 years old. Photo by Rev. Sidney Luvene.
Photo below right: Firefighters worked to put out the fire at Enterprise UMC in Enterprise, Miss. that has been in existence some 80 years. Photo courtesy of Clarke County Hot Topics.
Members of the Mississippi Conference are uniting in prayer following two church fires located in the conference's Meridian District.
The first fire was reported late afternoon on Sunday, Jan. 10, 2016 at Tabernacle United Methodist Church in Meridian. Law enforcement is investigating that fire as arson. The Rev. Sidney Luvene is the pastor at Tabernacle UMC, a predominately African-American congregation. He said the pulpit area in the main sanctuary sustained the most damage. A few choir chairs were burned. Heavy smoke and heat ruined window blinds and doors at the church. He stated he was thankful for firefighters who arrived quickly to prevent additional destruction.
"There are evil people. I said to the Lord, 'Have mercy on whoever it was. I still I plan to serve you. I plan to continue to preach your word and teach your word and spread the good news.' I will not let this hamper or stop anything," said Luvene who has been the pastor at Tabernacle UMC since June 2015.
About 30 miles away, in the town of Enterprise, the second church fire occurred on Tuesday, January 12. The Rev. Charles Waddell recalled a firefighter knocking on his door to tell him Enterprise United Methodist Church -- where he's served since June 2011 -- was fully engulfed by fire. According to Waddell, a preliminary report revealed the fire may have started from wiring in a heating area.
Word about the fires was heartbreaking for Mississippi Conference members like Elsie Williams of Concord UMC. She stated, "Anytime we lose a church it is devastating...However, the people are what makes the church, not the building. May God bless each person going through all these trials."
Fortunately, there were no injuries in either of the fires.