Fire outside church being investigated

Published 9:33 pm Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Pastor John Grayson of Gospel Tabernacle Church woke up to someone banging on his door on Oct. 8 around 2:44 a.m. It was his neighbor telling him his church, which is next door, was on fire.

Grayson said when he rushed outside he saw flames and smoke, but as he got closer he noticed it was actually a clothing donation box behind the church that was on fire.

“I just looked this way, and you could see flames over the top of the church and I thought, ‘Oh my God,’” Grayson said. “We had a water hose right there, but it wouldn’t reach, so I just got a bucket and started dashing water on it and called the fire department at the same time … and they finished putting it out.”

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Grayson said a wooden box that surrounds the church’s air conditioner was also on fire as well as the unit. Grayson said the bottom half of the church is brick, which may have deterred the fire from spreading to the building.

Grayson said the box is part of the church’s Food Share Program, which raises money to provide food for people in need in the Black Belt.

“This time of year it kind of hits us hard because this is the time of year people need us more than any,” Grayson said.

Grayson said all of the clothes inside the bin were destroyed.

“It was almost full of clothes,” Grayson said. “I think that’s why the fire was so big.”

The pastor doesn’t know who set the fire or why someone would do such a thing to hurt a program that is designed to help people.

“I just want to know why. Why would you set a church on fire? Why would you set the clothes on fire,” Grayson asked.

According to Sgt. Evelyn Ghant with the Selma Police Department, no arrest has been made. Grayson said he hopes someone will come forward and confess to setting the donation box on fire.

Grayson said he doesn’t think anyone intended to set fire to the church, but he said investigators with the police department believe it was done intentionally because a can with some type of accelerant was found nearby.

Grayson said a combination of the fire and an incident a few days earlier where someone interrupted a revival service have church members on edge, but he hopes finding answers will settle people down.

“It makes people nervous,” Grayson said. “At the very time we’re trying to build church attendance up, the enemy causes this and people slow down in coming.”

Grayson said the church is holding a fundraiser Friday at 7 p.m. to raise money for the Food Share program that will feature performances from the Concordia College Choir, the Angelic Harmonizers and the Gospel Tabernacle Sanctuary Choir.