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Charred churches get some help rebuilding
Gainesville-based group helps congregations after fires
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How to help
The National Coalition for Burned Churches is always in need of volunteers. Those interested can send an
e-mail to ncfbc@charter.net or call 770-539-1579.

When a church is burned down, it can be a tragic experience for the congregation. That is why one local group is dedicated to supporting and helping those churches rebuild.

The National Coalition for Burned Churches, which relocated from Charleston to Gainesville last year, was founded in 1997 to support the victims of arson and help rebuild churches for underinsured congregations in rural areas.

“Our whole mission and fundamental belief is that every church has the right to worship in peace and that peace is something we want to work to protect because people already are going through enough in their lives dealing with the issues they are faced with and the economy and we just want to protect the right to worship in peace,” said Rev. Rose Johnson-Mackey, a founding member of the coalition and a Gainesville native.

The group was founded in response to a rash of church burnings that took place across the country in the mid-1990s.

The issue gained national attention in 1996, when President Bill Clinton formed the National Church Arson Task Force to coordinate federal, state and local law enforcement efforts against such crimes.

“The pastors and the people who were involved in establishing the national coalition were part of churches that had been fire bombed or simply arsoned and wanted to make sure that there was an organization in place to help respond to the needs of churches when they go through the experience in the future,” Johnson-Mackey said. “People should not have to deal with somebody targeting their place of worship and burning it down just for the thrill of it or just because they wanted to have fun at somebody else’s expense.”

One of those involved in establishing the coalition was Johnson-Mackey’s future husband, who at the time was the pastor of a church in Greeleyville, S.C.

“When I was out doing the church burning investigations, I met my husband who was a pastor of the church that burned,” Johnson-Mackey said. “It was a church that was burned by the Christian Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, and it was a federal prosecution.”
Johnson-Mackey said that over the years, the coalition has recognized patterns behind church burnings.

“At the end of the year we produce a national church burning registry that lists the church burning incidents,” she said. “Many of the churches are burned by young people, young people as young as 9 years old and young adults.”

She said often, the young people set churches ablaze “just for the thrill of it,” but some have deeper motives, such as self-declared Satanists.

After the group identifies the churches in need of help, they tailor their support to the congregation’s needs. In most cases, a need for additional spiritual support is present.

“We have a meeting and talk about where they are and the first thing we do when we check in with the pastor is provide pastoral support,” she said. “The pastor is automatically bombarded with issues related to the fire, keeping the congregation intact and finding a place to worship. That’s a huge responsibility on the pastor. All of what we do really depend on what the church needs.”

Volunteers from all over the country, as far away as Boston and California, join the National Coalition for Burned Churches to help with the rebuilding process, Johnson-Mackey said.

Currently, the group is working to rebuild three churches in the Southeast, including one in Georgia. A House of the Living God Church of Jesus Christ in Manchester is in the early stages of rebuilding and will begin receiving volunteers later this year.
Johnson-Mackey said the coalition aims to help four churches each year.

“It continues to happen and I think that there is a need for increased public awareness about the problem,” she said. “Because when these churches burn especially when they burn in areas that are not metropolitan centers and areas where there’s not a lot of media attention, what happens is the churches don’t get a lot of attention in terms of exposure and they need it because if they don’t get the exposure, then the chances of them getting the kind of help that they need to successfully recover, they don’t get.”

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