By Bob Allen
Police in Charlotte, N.C., have arrested an 18-year-old in connection with an arson-related fire this summer at the city’s Providence Baptist Church.
Local media reported the arrest of Jonathan Paul Dover on charges of setting fire to a church or religious building, and with breaking and entering into a place of worship with the intent to commit a felony. He was held in the Mecklenburg County jail on a $4,000 bond.
Police did not say why the suspect set two fires at the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship-affiliated congregation during the night of July 9-10. A search by the Charlotte Observer found no prior record for Dover in North Carolina.
Last Friday, police released pictures captured from surveillance video inside the church of a man described as a person of interest. On Saturday, Dover came to the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department to be interviewed by detectives and afterward was taken to jail.
Fires started in a hallway behind the 1,000-seat sanctuary and in a downstairs room that’s part of the church’s music department burned out before firefighters arrived, but they left behind quite a mess. Pastor Al Cadenhead told ABPnews July 12 that the blackened downstairs area “looked like something out of one of those apocalyptic movies.”
Clean-up in the music suite included not only walls, ceilings and floors, but also 1,500 pieces of sheet music, each needing to be cleaned page-by-page by hand.
Cadenhead wrote in the church newsletter July 15 that he didn’t know why anyone would want to burn down the church building, but shared something he told the congregation the previous Sunday.
“If the person (or persons) responsible had accomplished their goal and burned our facility, they would not have destroyed Providence Baptist Church,” he wrote. “Providence Baptist is not a building. Certainly, we have an address; but, that is just where we do business. That is not who we are. Of course, our building is important to us and an object of love for us. But, Providence is a community of believers who have experienced the redeeming love of Christ.”
He said his hope for the arsonist is “that the person who tried to do us harm will experience that redeeming love and learn about the precious gift of grace that Christ offers and commands us to give away as well.
One lesson the church learned from the experience, he said, “is not to take so much for granted.”