Church will redouble its efforts after arson attack, vows pastor
The pastor of a Co Down church damaged by arsonists has vowed it will come back stronger.
The attack saw tyres piled up against Rathfriland Baptist Church and set alight on Wednesday, causing smoke damage and melting part of a window.
Pastor Ian Wilson said the incident was an "attack on the Gospel" and vowed his church, the congregation of which will meet in a local school until the building is repaired, would "redouble its efforts".
"This is not just an attack on Rathfriland Baptist, but an attack on every church in the town and on the community," he said.
"We're here to preach the Gospel and we will continue to do that in spite of this. In fact, we want to redouble our efforts.
"It'll take a number of weeks to have the building back in good, safe condition.
"In spite of this setback, we can rejoice knowing that the Devil may roar but Christ reigns".
First Minister Arlene Foster sent the congregation a message of support.
DUP MLA Jim Wells, meanwhile, claimed the attack was sectarian and said: "This was an act of cowardice and destruction, which is unfortunately an increasing trend here.
"The calculated nature of this attack - using tyres to build the fire - shows the perverted desire of the perpetrators to cause maximum destruction.
"What those who carry out such attacks do not understand is that the church is the people, not the building."
Ulster Unionist MLA Harold McKee also offered his support to the pastor and congregation.
"It is a disgrace that any place of worship should be attacked, and I know the local community share my shock and anger" he said.
"Whoever was responsible for this incident needs to be caught and punished. I urge anyone who knows anything about it, or who saw any suspicious activity in and around the Loughbrickland Road area of Rathfriland around 11pm on Wednesday night, to contact the police immediately."
Sinn Fein MLA Chris Hazzard said all places of worship should be treated with respect. "Thankfully no one was injured in this attack, but there is no doubt it will cause distress," he added.
TUV councillor Henry Reilly also called for the perpetrators to face the full force of the law. "It is absolutely shameful that Rathfriland Baptist Church was attacked," he said. What will it benefit the culprits to commit such a despicable act? I hope whoever is responsible is caught."
The PSNI is investigating the blaze, but have not revealed whether or not they are looking at a specific motive.
The fire came just five months after a very serious arson attack on a recycling centre just a few feet away from the church set ablaze on Sunday.
The centre was gutted and a young family were lucky to escape with their lives when the fire spread to their nearby home last December. No one has been arrested over the attack.