Presbyterian Disaster Assistance (PDA), in collaboration with its ecumenical partners, is working to assist the churches recently damaged by fire. Over a two week period, seven churches with predominantly black membership burned in Georgia, Tennessee, North and South Carolina, Ohio and Florida. Investigators speculate lightning may have been involved in a few, but arson has not been ruled out. The Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives is still investigating. 

The multiple fires occurred after the June 17 shootings at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C., where nine people died. Authorities say it’s too early in the investigation to draw any conclusions between the shootings and the church fires. 

In a joint statement released on July 1, PC(USA) leaders urged everyone to offer prayers and financial support to the churches. “As Christians we live in hope of a Beloved Community where racism and other evils that divide us are washed away. Even as we wait, we are called to work with all our energy and resources to make that a reality. In support of that vision, we urge all Presbyterians and their congregations to reach out to their African American neighbors, assuring them of their love and support, including a willingness to stand with them in the face of danger.” 

In the 1990’s, there were a series of hate-related arson attacks on African American churches. PDA viewed the crisis as a national disaster after 124 churches, including the Matthews-Murkland Presbyterian Church in Charlotte, North Carolina were targeted. Working with partners, PDA assisted in helping to rebuild some of the churches and worked towards building racial reconciliation. 

Those interested in helping the damaged churches rebuild can give to a designated account, DR000126. Go to http://pda.pcusa.org/situation/burned-churches/ to learn more.