3 Black churches rebuilding in Louisiana after 2019 arson

Apr 19, 2022, 5:22 AM | Updated: 3:28 pm

OPELOUSAS, La. (AP) — Three years after an arsonist torched three small Black Baptist churches in rural Louisiana, rebuilding is well under way.

Mount Pleasant Baptist Church in Opelousas is months from reopening, with visible progress at St. Mary Baptist Church in Port Barre and Greater Union Baptist Church in Opelousas, The Daily World reported.

“We began in a dark moment, but it’s getting brighter and brighter every day,” said the Rev. Gerald Toussaint of Mount Pleasant. “Now it’s a bright day as we’re looking forward to being back together in the church.”

A would-be “black metal” musician pleaded guilty in 2020, saying he set fire to the churches in late March and early April 2019 to promote himself in the heavy metal subgenre. Holden Matthews is serving simultaneous 25-year federal and state sentences in federal prison.

The first fire occurred March 26, 2019, at St. Mary. Greater Union burned down four days later, with Mount Pleasant set ablaze two days after that.

Toussaint holds fellowship, prayer and Bible study via conference call and preaches live on Facebook, as he has since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Before that, the congregation gathered in the Equine Center in Opelousas.

The church’s new sanctuary and fellowship hall are a few deliveries and final inspections short of finished, he said.

“It’s been challenging, but we’ve been getting through it simply because we stuck together,” he said. “We realize none of us could have done this without faith. It’s only by faith in God we’ve been able to even start the process of building.”

At St. Mary Missionary Baptist Church, there are holes where large front doors will stand and windows are not yet glazed. Inside, walls have been framed and a staircase rises. The new church will be larger than the old one.

The slab had been poured for a fellowship hall before the arsonist struck.

“We built it out as quick as we could to have a place to worship,” the Rev. Kyle Terrell Sylvester Sr. said. After a year in a rented building, the fellowship hall was ready.

There’s also a new parking lot. During the pandemic, the church met outdoors for “parking lot services” as the weather allowed, and then Sylvester preached via livestream.

In-person services began in mid 2021, first with spaced out seating. Now more than 80 people fill the fellowship hall every week.

“We’re at a real good place right now,” Sylvester said.

Completion will depend on supplies, he said.

“We are at the mercy of the market,” he said. “We may be waiting a little while.”

Greater Union’s lot was vacant for a long time, but today passersby can see a large metal church building taking shape.

The church was established about 130 years ago and has more than 100 members, Deacon Ronald Milburn said a year after the fire.

“It’s always been a very committed congregation,” he said.

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3 Black churches rebuilding in Louisiana after 2019 arson