'Christ reigns' - Pastor defiant over Down Baptist Church arson
MLA Jim Wells brands attack "christophobic"
The pastor of an arson-hit Co Down Baptist Church has said that despite the attack "Christ reigns".
Sometime between 11pm and 11.30pm on Wednesday night, tyres were set up against the side of the church on the Loughbrickland Road, Rathfriland and set on fire.
Pastor Ian Wilson took to Twitter following the attack.
"We can rejoice knowing that the Devil may roar but Christ reigns," he wrote.
Suspected arson attack on our church last night in spite of this setback we can rejoice knowing that the Devil may Roar but Christ reigns— Ian Wilson (@pastorIanWilson) May 19, 2016
He said they were waiting for crime scene officers to finish with the scene before he could fully examine the extent of the damage.
"Thankfully the fire service were there quickly and did a terrific job," he told the BBC.
"There was a lot of smoke and water damage and some structure damage.
"Once we get in we'll be able to see the damage better."
Three fire appliances were sent to the scene and the church sustained damage to the side of the building and windows.
South Down MLA Jim Wells said the attack was both sectarian and "christophobic".
He said: "The sectarian and christophobic attack on the meeting place of Rathfriland Baptist Church was an act of cowardice and destruction which is unfortunately an increasing trend across Northern Ireland.
"The calculated nature of this attack, using tyres to build the fire, shows the perverted desire of the perpetrators to cause maximum destruction to the building."
"What those who carry out such attacks on church buildings do not understand is that the church is the people, not the building. Whilst the congregation are understandably deeply saddened by the damage to their meeting place they will continue to worship as a community."
First Minister Arlene Foster sent a message of support for the congregation.
"I would like to pass on my good wishes and prayers to the pastor and congregation of Rathfriland Baptist Church after the attack on their church building," she said.
Disgusted at the arson attack on the Baptist Church in Rathfriland,Co.Down last night.I hope the criminals responsible will be arrested.— Martin McGuinness (@M_McGuinness_SF) May 19, 2016
Sinn Fein's Chris Hazzard also condemned the incident.
The South Down MLA said: "This arson attack on a Baptist church on the Loughbrickland Road in Rathfriland was wrong and I condemn it.
"Thankfully no-one was injured in this attack but there is no doubt it will cause a great deal of distress to those who use the church.
"All places of worship should be treated with respect.
"I would encourage anyone with information on this incident to bring it forward to the PSNI."
Martin McGuinness expressed his disgust at the arson.
The deputy First Minister said he hoped those responsible were arrested.
A NIFRS spokesman said: "Northern Ireland Fire & Rescue Service finished at the scene at 00:47am and the fire is being treated as deliberate.”
Police have appealed for anyone with information to contact investigating officers.