Newspaper article Charleston Gazette Mail

Willful Desecration ; Historic Black Church Vandalized

Newspaper article Charleston Gazette Mail

Willful Desecration ; Historic Black Church Vandalized

Article excerpt

MONTGOMERY -Broken glass and debris cover the floor in the fellowship hall of First Baptist Church, where Montgomery's oldest black congregation worshiped for more than 100 years. Antique cups and plates lie in pieces on the floor. An old ledger, filled with handwritten notes dating back to 1946, has been thrown onto the floor, where it lies open. At the front of the room are an old piano and pulpit from the church's original structure, built in 1878. "When we left out of here, it looked like an antique that you could sell, Bishop Thomas Murray Jr., the church's pastor, said of the damaged pulpit. "Not now . . . not now.

The building, located on a hill behind the West Virginia University Institute of Technology, has been the target of vandals, who've broken down doors and busted windows, broken old dishes and otherwise ransacked the place.

"I would be scared to death to come into a church and do something like that, even drink or anything, let alone destruct something, Murray said.

The church has been empty since July 2012, when the congregation - made up of mostly older members who had trouble making it up the ramps and into the old building - moved to an old Episcopal church downtown.

The congregation is hoping to sell the building, Murray said.

He saw the damage Wednesday, after he noticed an open door and went to secure it.

"When we walked in, I just froze, he said.

Before this week, Murray was last inside the building in July, although he sometimes would see a door open and secure it. The police have responded to break-ins here at least 10 times, he said. Murray said he believes the damage was made during a series of repeated break-ins and that squatters have been staying in the church. Among the debris, Murray found what he believes to be drug paraphernalia.

"It's just ridiculous, Murray said. "I know people are on drugs, but I mean, you still got a mind and a conscience - I would hope. This didn't happen in one day. To repeatedly come in and keep doing this and keep doing this . . .

A call to the Montgomery Police Department about the damage was not returned by Friday evening.

The old church's buyer is still willing to purchase it, but the congregation won't be getting the $150,000 they had hoped for. They were planning to use the money to pay off their new building.

"There's no way, Murray said. "It's gonna have to be gutted . . . when mold starts growing, all you can do is strip it.

In the sanctuary upstairs, old bulletins, funeral fans and hymnals are strewn across the platform at the front. The box from a brand new Bible also sits on the floor.

"Hopefully, they took it and read it, Murray said.

The thick glass around the church's baptistery has been cracked. It appears the vandals threw an old cabinet into the glass. An old velvet picture depicting the Last Supper hung above the baptistery for decades but is now gone. …

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