According to a report from the Georgia State Fire Marshal’s Office, the fire occurred Friday, March 14 around 4:30 p.m. at the Candler County church, located just off Interstate 16 about 60 miles northwest of Savannah.
The report indicated the church, started more than 110 years ago, was built in the 1960s. There was one fire in a room on one side of the building and another on the opposite side. There was evidence of forced entry to one of the doors leading into the building.
Georgia Insurance and Safety Fire Commissioner Ralph Hudgens indicated in a news release that the fire was arson and resulted in heavy smoke and water damage from efforts to extinguish the fire.
Attempts by The Layman to reach Joe Anderson, commissioned ruling elder (CRE) for MPC, were unsuccessful.
Finding a place to worship
Russell Gladding, executive presbyter/stated clerk of Savannah Presbytery, indicated that members of Metter gathered for worship Sunday, March 16 at a quail plantation in the country and had a wonderful experience despite their circumstances.
“The building is very special to them, but members (at MPC) know the church is not the building but the people,” Gladding said. “They are one body and one spirit, and will move forward under one God.”
Though church leaders still are assessing the situation and working with their insurance company, Gladding said they have accepted an offer to hold services at the Catholic church just down the street for the time being. It was one of many offers from churches in and around Metter.
“The community there is very close-knit. They were offered by every church in town the opportunity to use their facilities for worship,” Gladding said, adding that church officials are considering several other locations to continue their feeding ministry, which provides groceries to people from the community in need.
A terrible act
Gladding said the act of arson at the church was unconscionable and came on the eve of one of the food distribution dates. He said gasoline was doused near both entrances to the building and then set on fire.
“To me, it’s unimaginable what someone could be thinking,” he said. “I don’t know another word for such an act but pure evil. But there are things that happen in our worst times that somehow pull God’s people together, and this seems to be one of those times. I understand that the congregation has been praying and continues to pray for the person who did this.”
The fire certainly left members of the church saddened and shocked about what happened.
“Why? Why would you do this to the Lord’s house? He’s never done anything to you,” member Casey Hendrix told WTOC-TV.
Even Hudgens was stunned at what the investigation revealed about the fire.
“The feeling when I got here was shock and heartbroken and sick to my stomach about what’s happened here,” he told the television station.
Gladding said Presbyterian Disaster Assistance (PDA), Savannah Presbytery and the Synod of South Atlantic were providing assistance to the Metter congregation.
“We will be here to do anything we can to help that congregation,” Gladding said of the 41 churches and approximately 6,000 members of Savannah Presbytery. “It’s more than just our presbytery office; it’s the people throughout the presbytery. We’ll work together, and God will see us all through this.”
He said one woman from a nearby congregation, whose church burned several years ago, even got up on Saturday morning, put on her work clothes and went to Metter to provide any help she could.
“That’s the spirit of this presbytery,” Gladding said. “We’re many parts, but we’re one body. I’m grateful for the people of this presbytery and what they are doing to help their fellow brothers and sisters in need.”
A reward of up to $10,000 is being offered for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the person responsible for the fire. Anyone with information can call 1-800-282-5804.