BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (UMNS) - Ten rural Alabama churches that were damaged or destroyed by arson this year are receiving checks from United Methodist-related Birmingham-Southern College, which launched a fund last spring to help the congregations rebuild.
Teams of students, faculty and staff have delivered checks to nine of the churches, and the remaining check will be presented in August. With the delivery of the final check, the school's Alabama Churches Rebuilding and Restoration Fund will have disbursed more than $368,000 to the burned churches, a spokesperson said.
"We've received support from all over the country and from many who do not have a connection to Alabama or Birmingham-Southern College," said President David Pollick in a news release. "I have been deeply touched by the show of respect for our students and the moral stance of our college."
Birmingham-Southern established the fund in March, upon learning that two of its students - along with a former student who had transferred to the University of Alabama-Birmingham - had been arrested and charged in nine of the attacks. The school's response also included a 10th church, destroyed Feb. 11 but not linked to the other fires.
Through the fund, the college said it was also distributing money collected for the churches in other campaigns, including more than $55,000 from a joint effort of the National Conference for Community and Justice, AmSouth Bank, and FOX 6/WBRC TV, and more than $33,000 from the Community Foundation of West Alabama.
Another $150,000 was donated by a couple in Jackson Hole, Wyo., who asked to remain anonymous, and the remainder of the $368,000 came from contributions directly to the college, a school spokesperson said.
The fires, all of which occurred in early February, destroyed six churches and damaged the other four. African-American and white congregations alike were affected.
The destroyed churches are receiving $53,000 each from the fund. They are Ashby Baptist Church in the Brierfield community, Pleasant Sabine Baptist near Centerville, and Rehobeth Baptist in the Lawley community, all in Bibb County; and Beaverton Freewill Baptist in Lamar County, Galilee Baptist in the Panola community of Sumter County, and Morningstar Missionary Baptist in the Boligee community of Greene County. Morningstar will be the final church to receive its check.
The remaining $50,000 has been divided among the damaged churches: Antioch Baptist Church in the Antioch community of Bibb County, Dancy First Baptist in Aliceville, Old Union Baptist in the Brierfield community of Bibb County, and Spring Valley Baptist in the Gainesville community of Sumter County.
The school said the money is being distributed equitably according to the individual needs of the churches.
As part of its response to the fires, the school formed teams of faculty, staff and students to work with each church. Team members worshipped with the congregations and spent time building relationships with them. The efforts were overseen by Stewart Jackson, dean of the chapel at Birmingham-Southern.
"The teams are a link between the church and the resources that the college is distributing," Jackson said in a news release. Each church had its own resources and needs, he noted. "Therefore we needed our teams to get to know them and help us make the best use of the gifts that have and are being given."
On the first Sunday in October, the school will be hosting a luncheon on campus for the members of all 10 of the churches. In addition, plans are under way to provide volunteer labor to at least one of the churches as it rebuilds.
"The college does have a desire to continue a relationship with these churches indefinitely," the school spokesperson told United Methodist News Service.