On a recent Wednesday morning, the skies were gray and heavy with clouds. Also a bit heavy was the heart of the Rev. Angela Pleasants as she stood outside the partially burned Central United Methodist Church on Albemarle Road.
But it wasn't the fire causing Pleasants' sorrow. Instead, it was having to turn away a family that has shown up at the pastor's church expecting to participate in a program called “Mi Casa Su Casa,” Spanish for “My House, Your House.”
The program offers a range of services for Latino residents, such as legal and prenatal assistance, health information and food donations. Before the Sept. 15 fire, Mi Casa Su Casa operated out of Central United Methodist as an outreach program of the church. But the fire, which investigators suspect was arson, destroyed the church's administrative offices.
“This is the sad part,” said Pleasants, as the family, toddler in tow, piled back into their compact car and headed to Mi Casa Su Casa's temporary location. The program is temporarily located at 5601 Executive Center Drive near the church.
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Several other groups, including one that helps senior citizens and another that works with residents with special needs, have also had to find other places to meet. They were renting space from the church.
Despite the fire, Pleasants cares far more about people than fancy church buildings. In the days after the fire, her concern centered more on the 150 or so members of the congregation and how they were coping. She even prayed for the arsonist.
“I hope the individual who did this gets caught,” she said, “but not because I want revenge but because I want them to get help.”
She's also been touched by the community's outpouring of support. Businesses have offered office space for the church. Chick-fil-A delivered free food to firefighters who responded to the blaze. Dunkin Donuts sent free food the Sunday after the fire when the congregation held service on the lawn outside the church.
Words of sympathy and support have even come from strangers.
“I cried,” said Pleasants, “but not out of anger over the fire, but because of the people that really touched my heart.
“I told our congregation that Central has always been there for the community. Now the community has become a church to the church.”
The fire is under investigation, and a $10,000 reward is being offered for information. The blaze caused $500,000 in damages.
Central United Methodist now holds services at Hickory Grove United Methodist Church on Hickory Grove Road.
“The congregation is grieving going through periods of anger and joy,” said Pleasants. “But this has made us stronger and brought us together.”
Saturday, Central United Methodist holds its annual Community Carnival 11 a.m.-3 p.m. It's free. Details: www.cumccharlotte.com.