Middlebrook UMC deals with vandalism

9/4/2007

By Woody Woodrick
Advocate Editor

Members of Middlebrook United Methodist Church in Jackson are trying not to rush to judgment about why someone tried to burn a church building and defaced it with racial slurs.

The incident at the racially mixed church located in South Jackson was discovered Aug. 21 and has attracted the attention of federal investigators.

“We consider this a hate crime based on the graffiti on the wall,” Jackson Fire Department Arson Investigator Greg Travis said. “You have racial remarks and symbols of white supremacy.”

The Rev. Fitzgerald Lovett, pastor of the church, said FBI and Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms agents are looking into the matter.

The damage was done to the Jabez House located on the property. A door was kicked in and a fire damaged the basement. Racial slurs were spray-painted along a back stairwell. The building that contains the sanctuary was not damaged.

Lovett said he and some church members went to the church after hearing that Forest Hill UMC, located about 50 yards away, had had a break-in.

“At first I saw the door had been kicked in, but nothing of value is left in the building so I was not worried at that point. Later, some of the ladies informed me a fire had been started in the basement,” Lovett said.

He said church members are experiencing a lot of mixed emotions. “We’re mostly hurt,” Lovett said. “We’re hurt someone would damage church property.”

He said church members are trying hard not to jump to any conclusions about who might have done the damage or why.

Middlebrook UMC was founded in 2000 to serve as a racially and culturally mixed church. It moved to its current location, a former Baptist church, in October 2005. Middlebrook and Forest Hill UMCs back up to one another, and the congregations frequently share activities. The churches held a community prayer service together Aug. 29 that included a prayer walk through part of the neighborhood.

• The Clarion-Ledger contributed to this report.