Hundreds rally to support Tri-Cities church burned in arson fire

HAWKINS COUNTY, TN (WJHL) – A Tri-Cities community rallied together to support a church that was set on fire earlier this year.

First Baptist in Church Hill was set on fire just four days before Easter. When officers arrived, they saw flames inside the church’s sanctuary and Church Hill Fire Department personnel were called to the scene.

The fire was quickly extinguished, but the church was heavily damaged by smoke and water from the sprinkler system.

Sunday April 24th, members of the community worshiped and prayed for the Church Hill Baptist hill 2

“They are close by, they’re our neighbor… and we want to love on them and show them God’s love during all this,” said community member, Amanda Hensley.

Church Hill police said their investigation revealed that someone entered the church, poured toilet bowl cleaner onto the floor, took items from the locked music room and placed them in a pile outside.

The suspects then set two fires inside the church near the stage and altar — one in the middle, the other of the left side on the steps.

“The water damage downstairs was immense,” said Church Hill Baptist Pastor, Gary Gerhardt.  “And, of course, there is quite a bit of work that will have to be done in the sanctuary. There will have to be new carpeting, the whole nine yards.”

Pastor Gerhardt said their services are now held in their administrative office building, which is located next to the church. He said despite the move, people are still filling the seats every Sunday.

“We are running over 400 on Sunday morning,” he said. “And that’s sitting on a metal chair.”

Sunday’s gathering was a reminder for many that church is not about a building, but the people who worship together.

“Its really opened our eyes, and I think it’s going to make  our community come together,” said Hensley.

Gerhardt said the church sanctuary will probably not be usable until July or August.

First Baptist Church is offering a $5,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of those responsible. Church Hill PD is also offering a $1,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of those responsible.

Anyone with information is asked to call 423-357-7181 or 423-357-3487, ext. 4.


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