A sinister attempt to deliberately burn a Castlereagh church to the ground has shocked members of a normally quiet community.
On Thursday night, a back window was smashed in Cairnshill Methodist Church on the Ballylenaghan Road, before a number of chairs were set alight starting several fires on the ground floor.
Fire crews responded rapidly to an emergency call at 10.35am and managed to extinguish the flames by 11.27am.
It was reported that entry was forced to the premises during the night and a number of fires started within the building.
Church members were horrified to see large areas of several rooms on the ground floor completely scorched, with the walls black with soot and thick smoke in the air.
Detectives are appealing for witnesses following the incident.
A Northern Ireland Fire & Rescue Service spokesperson said: “Northern Ireland Fire & Rescue Service (NIFRS) received a call at 10:35am to a report of a fire at a church at the Ballylenaghan Road area of Newtownbreda.
“Two Fire Appliances from Central Fire Station were deployed to the scene of a small fire in the entrance lobby of the church. Two firefighters using a hosereel jet extinguished the fire and Northern Ireland Fire & Rescue Service finished at the scene at 11:27am.
“The fire is being treated as deliberate and the incident has been passed through to the Police Service of Northern Ireland.”
Rev Ruth Patterson said: "The Church sanctuary itself doesn't appear to be damaged nor is the large hall but the rest of the suite of buildings is extensively smoke damaged and the smell of smoke is throughout."
In 2013, the church was targeted in two separate burglary attempts in one weekend. Damage was caused to doors and other items and money was stolen.
The most recent incident has been condemned as a "senseless attack".
South Belfast DUP candidate Emma Little Pengelly said: "I am disgusted by the actions this morning where a person or number of people have broken into the church and caused damage. This is senseless and very upsetting for the local congregation and worshippers. I would urge anyone with information to come forward to the PSNI and hope the perpetrators are swiftly apprehended."
Rev Louise Donald said: "Well it's a very sad day for us but there we are no one was injured or hurt and it's not a reflection on the community here, we've very lovely relations with the community.
"But it is very sad, but it's the church building and not the church that has damaged, the church will survive as the people. As soon as we can we'll be back in action."
"I would just say that I find it very, very sad that this is who they want to spend their life causing destruction and pain to others and I just wish they could see the joy of the children who come here and the lovely community rather than sadly getting caught up in something that can only be damaging to them.
"But we forgive them and if they want to come and join with us at any time they're always welcome."
Appeal for information
The president of the Methodist Church in Ireland, Rev Brian Anderson, also condemned the attack.
He said: "I utterly condemn this unwarranted attack on Cairnshill Methodist Church at the heart of the Methodist identity is a saying by the Rev John Wesley in which he described Methodists as 'the friends of all and enemies of none.
"This has been at the heart of the Cairnshill Methodist congregation whose only desire is to serve the community among whom it is set."
Rev Anderson added: "I would encourage those who may have some information concerning this attack no matter how little or insignificant they think it is to please contact the PSNI.
Police are appealing for anyone who witnessed the incident or anyone with any information that can assist with the investigation to contact detectives in Lisburn on 101.
Information can also be passed anonymously via the independent charity Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.