Martin Luther King Jr. Community Presbyterian Church suffers heavy damage in Monday morning fire
by Mike Ferguson | Presbyterian News Service
LOUISVILLE — Massachusetts State Police, local arson investigators and the FBI are investigating the cause of a Monday morning fire that heavily damaged the Martin Luther King Jr. Community Presbyterian Church in Springfield, Massachusetts.
According to a report from WWLP News, firefighters were called to the church at about 5 a.m. Eastern Time and had the fire out by 8 a.m. MassLive.com quoted Springfield Mayor Dominic J. Sarno, who called the fire a case of arson. The fire heavily damaged the church building, home to a predominantly Black congregation of about 40 members.
On Jan. 2, MassLive.com reported the arrest of a Maine man in connection with the fire. Authorities charged Dushko Vulchev of Houlton, Maine, with several counts of malicious damage and three counts of attempted arson, the office of the state fire marshal said.
His first attempt to burn the church at 14 Concord Terrace was on Dec. 13, followed by two attempts on Dec. 15, officials said.
The Rev. Shannan Vance-Ocampo, general presbyter of the Presbytery of Southern New England, was on her way to Springfield on the morning of Dec. 28 to meet with church leaders, including the church’s pastor, the Rev. Dr. Terrlyn Curry Avery, who’s been in transitional ministry at the church for about 18 months.
“We will update as more information is known, and with how people can help,” Vance-Ocampo said in a statement. “For now, please hold our Presbytery in prayer.”
The Rev. Jim Kirk, Associate for Disaster Response with Presbyterian Disaster Assistance, said the church, one of only two predominantly Black congregations among PC(USA) churches in New England, will be eligible for a church damage grant. PDA will also send the church copies of a book written by the Rev. Dr. Laurie Kraus, Director of Presbyterian Disaster Assistance, and two others, “Recovering from Unnatural Disasters: A Guide for Pastors and Congregations after Violence and Trauma.”
“It’s the only [PC(USA)] African American church in the Presbytery,” Kirk said. “It’s tragic to have a sacred space like that desecrated.”
Before arriving in Springfield on Monday, Vance-Ocampo said Martin Luther King Jr. Community Presbyterian Church had been without pastoral leadership for more than 15 years before Curry Avery arrived in 2019.
Vance-Ocampo called the damaged church “a beautiful, historic building.” She’d planned to preach to the congregation remotely Thursday as part of a watchnight service leading into the new year. “Now we’ll be switching that around,” she said.
After spending most of Monday on site, Vance-Ocampo said a prayer service held for the congregation included “friends in other parts of the larger Church who offered us the gift of their prayers and accompaniment.”
The congregation, she said, “is resolute and steadfast in their desire for ministry to continue, that rebuilding will take place and that God has a plan for the future and its flourishing in discipleship, service and worship.”
Because of COVID-19 precautions, no physical gathering is planned for the time being, Vance-Ocampo said, “and there is not the usual need for paraments, hymnals, and other physical items to be donated.” Since the property is currently the scene of an investigation, people are asked not to visit the church in an attempt to make a donation.
Donations can be mailed to the church at 14 Concord Terrace, Springfield, MA 01109. They can also be made online by clicking here.
On the day before Thanksgiving in 2018, another church in the Presbytery of Southern New England, Woodbury Union Presbyterian Church in Warwick, Rhode Island, suffered extensive fire damage. The damaged church has since been repaired but hasn’t held services in its restored sanctuary due to the pandemic.
Two years ago, Vance-Ocampo traveled to Warwick following the fire. Also attending to the needs of the Woodbury Union congregation in the days and weeks to follow were a pair of PDA volunteers — members of the Martin Luther King Jr. Community Presbyterian Church.
“That church will be a help to the Martin Luther King Jr. church,” Vance- Ocampo said. “Those congregations are already connected.”
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Categories: Communication, Disaster Response
Tags: church damage grant, martin luther king jr. community presbyterian church, presbyterian disaster assistance, presbytery of southern new england, rev. dr. laurie kraus, rev. dr. terrlyn curry avery, rev. jim kirk, rev. shannan vance-ocampo, woodbury union presbyterian church warwick rhode island
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Ministries: Presbyterian Disaster Assistance, Communications