Historic Montgomery church to worship in sanctuary again 1 year after arson

First Baptist Lead Pastor Mark Bethea says services in the Main Sanctuary will start again Sunday
A file photo showing worship inside the Main Sanctuary of First Baptist Church Montgomery prior...
A file photo showing worship inside the Main Sanctuary of First Baptist Church Montgomery prior to a Sept. 2021 arson attack that left the space with major damage. Nearly a year later, the sanctuary will again be available to the congregation to worship in.(Source: WSFA)
Published: Jul. 22, 2022 at 4:57 PM CDT
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MONTGOMERY, Ala. (WSFA) - Nearly a year after an arsonist tried to burn down one of Montgomery’s oldest churches, the congregation is celebrating a milestone in their journey back to normalcy.

Nearly 300 days later, Lead Pastor Mark Bethea has announced that services in the Main Sanctuary of First Baptist Church Montgomery will start again on Sunday with a 10:15 A.M. worship service.

The arsonist “gained access to our church in the early morning hours and attempted to burn our church to the ground,” Bethea said in a video message to his congregation. “And how did we respond?” he asked. “We didn’t respond with grumbling and complaining, we responded with joy in our worship, with thankfulness for what the Lord is showing us and teaching us through this season.”

Scaffolding had filled the Main Sanctuary for some time, but it’s finally been removed.

Video from the church shows that, though carpet has since been replaced and smoke damage cleaned, there’s a permanent, hidden reminder. It comes in the form of messages and Bible verses that have been scrawled onto the floors by congregants in anticipation of being covered over by new carpet.

The sanctity of the nearly 200-year old church, with one of the city’s largest memberships, was broken in the early morning hours of Sept. 30.

A total of four separate fires were set inside the house of worship, targeting the main sanctuary, historic Stakely Sanctuary and some of the church’s office spaces. The reception office was also destroyed.


At the foot of the cross in the sanctuary, the arsonist started a gasoline trail, making a winding walk up the center aisle. There were burn spots on the carpet of both sanctuaries and the flames destroyed some of the pews in the main sanctuary.

“It could have been much worse,” Bethea said at the time, crediting the installation of flame-retardant carpets for helping slow the fires’ spread.

The suspect, since identified as 27-year-old Xiaoquin Yan, remains in custody. A motive remains unclear.

The church will return to its regular schedule starting on Aug. 14.

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