Arsonist sets multiple fires at one of Alabama’s biggest Baptist churches; here’s what we know

Published 3:23 pm Thursday, September 30, 2021

Fires that appeared to have been set intentionally destroyed an office and caused damage in the more than century-old First Baptist Church of Montgomery, the pastor said Thursday.

Rev. Mark L. Bethea, in a message released on the church’s Facebook page, said the building “was attacked by an arsonist who attempted to set fire to several areas of our church building.” Fast action by firefighters prevented the blaze from being a “catastrophic event,” he wrote, but the office and reception area were badly damaged.

Several pews were destroyed and carpet burned in the sanctuary, and smoke and soot spread throughout the church, the message said. A photo released by the church showed the smoky interior of the sanctuary.

Bethea said there was an “active investigation into who would have done this,” but neither Montgomery police nor fire officials immediately returned email messages seeking comment.

Gov. Kay Ivey, in a statement released by her office, said she was “deeply saddened to hear of this hateful act upon my church,” WSFA-TV reported.

“I’m grateful to Pastor Mark’s leadership and response to such a hurtful moment in our community,” she said.

The church was founded in 1829 and moved into its current building in 1916, according to its website. The building is easy to spot in the capital because of its bright stone exterior and red dome.