‘Unity Rally’ brings together Charlotte churches struck by arson

Attendees light candles at New Outreach Christian Center’s Unity Rally for Briar Creek Road Baptist Church.
Attendees light candles at New Outreach Christian Center’s Unity Rally for Briar Creek Road Baptist Church. jcapwell@charlotteobserver.com

A Charlotte church that was struck by an arsonist 20 years ago held a rally of support Saturday for another church that had been victimized by arson in June.

New Outreach Christian Center organized the “Unity Rally” for Briar Creek Road Baptist Church, which suffered significant damage June 24 in an intentionally set fire.

The blaze destroyed the church’s education building and caused smoke damage to much of the property before 75 firefighters put it out.

New Outreach was struck by arson in 1995.

“I know the hurt they’re feeling and the process of rebuilding,” New Outreach Pastor Brenda Stevenson said. “The purpose is to bring people together in unity, so unity can bring hope and healing,” she said.

Attendees at the rally included members of both churches as well as Florida activists, who marched to the rally from nearby Chappell Memorial Baptist Church.

After an opening rendition of “Hallelujah,” 15 attendees rose to light candles. “We light this candle ... to bring strength and unity,” Stevenson said.

Songs of empowerment and prayer broke up remarks from local officials that included city council members Al Austin, Michael Barnes and Claire Fallon, Fire Marshal Rob Kinniburgh, Chief Fire Investigator Paul Wilkinson and Charlotte-Mecklenburg police Major Bruce Bellamy.

“I believe the Christian church is under attack,” Barnes said. “We don’t know who did the Briar Creek burning, but hopefully we can find out and send a clear message – we don’t want people burning our churches.”

Briar Creek is one of six predominantly black Southern churches to burn in the past month, three of which are being investigated for arson.

The FBI opened a preliminary investigation of the fire. But as of July 1 Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department said there is no evidence indicating it was a hate crime.

Briar Creek will receive donations from two online fundraisers that have raised over $360,000 as of Saturday for the burned Southern churches.

Capwell: 704-358-6194; Twitter: @jessicacapwell