A Mississippi church was destroyed by a fire Wednesday morning, an incident that local investigators believe was an act of arson. The church had recently filed a lawsuit against the city for its ban on in-person worship services.
Local firefighters responded to a fire at First Pentecostal Church of Holly Springs at approximately 2 a.m. Wednesday. By the time they arrived, it was too late. The entire church was engulfed in flames.
Local news reported that investigators found spray paint cans along the ground and a message written in graffiti on the church parking lot: “Bet you stay home now you hypokrits (sic).”
Marshall County Major Kelly McMillan told local news he believes the incident was intentional. “We do believe that based on the evidence and what we have seen at the scene and on top of the hill this was an arson.”
Jerry Waldrop, pastor of First Pentecostal Church for the past 31 years, has no clue who might have burned down the church.
“We’ve tacked our brains and we have no idea. No enemies that we know of. We don’t know anyone that we even think could be capable of doing something like this.”
He also said it’s “hard to wrap your head around the idea” that someone would plan and execute something so horrific. Although Waldrop is unsure of how his church will move forward, he knows he must “keep the faith.”
“We are going to keep the faith, and we’re going to keep doing what we have always done. Maybe not on this location,” Waldrop said. “I’ll get with our faithful people, and maybe we’ll rent a building or whatever we need to do for the time being.”
Although Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves considered churches essential, the city of Holly Springs deemed them nonessential. Therefore, they were subject to the mass gathering prohibition. As a result, First Pentecostal filed a lawsuit against the city.
In April, a federal judge ruled that the church was permitted to host drive-in services. This was not enough, however. The church pushed back and demanded that in-person worship services be allowed. The decision is still pending.
Although Gov. Reeves has contacted many churches in the state to encourage them not to hold services, he does believe they have every right to gather for worship. The mayor of Holly Springs is acting in opposition to the governing powers of the state.
“If in fact the order in the city of Holly Springs says that church is non-essential and cannot order, then that order is in direct violation of the order that governs the state of Mississippi. Then they should cease and desist said order,” Reeves said during a news conference.
“It is very clear local municipalities can have guidelines that are more strict than the governor’s guidelines, but they cannot have guidelines that directly conflict with what we have put in place,” the governor added.
“There is a reason that we named churches essential. The reason is that I believe very strongly that the government does not have the right to shut down churches. We have freedom of religion in this country.”