Co Down pastor condems arson attack on Baptist church
A CO Down pastor has described an arson attack on his church as an "attack on the Lord and the gospel".
Pastor Ian Wilson said he had "no idea" why Rathfriland Baptist Church had been targeted by arsonists.
"It's not just an attack on Rathfriland Baptist, it's an attack on every church in the town and on the community," he said.
Tyres were set against the property on the Loughbrickland Road and set alight on Wednesday night. Damage was caused to the side of the building and windows.
Police said they were investigating a hate crime as one line of inquiry.
Pastor Wilson said he was shocked and bewildered.
"I just have no idea why this has happened," he said.
"I've had a Sinn Féin MLA here with me, a DUP MLA and an official unionist (UUP)and all of them say that this really just doesn't happen in Rathfriland.
"I couldn't say it's sectarian, I just have no idea. The community in Rathfriland are in absolute shock that this has happened.
"It's not just an attack on Rathfriland Baptist, it's an attack on every church in the town and on the community.
"But I think above all it's an attack on the Lord and the gospel."
Pastor Wilson said the church hopes to use a nearby high school for its Sunday service.
"There's smoke damage as well as some damage to the walls, ceilings and carpets and the windows have been broken," he said.
"There's a lot of smell of smoke in the building.
"We're hoping to use Rathfriland High School, we have also received an offer from the local Presbyterian Church and we are also going to use an Elim Church for a meeting.
"It will be a number of weeks before we have the building back in a good, safe condition, we will have to wait on insurance surveyors to come in."
Sinn Féin assembly member Chris Hazzard said: "All places of worship should be treated with respect. I would encourage anyone with information on this incident to bring it forward to the PSNI".
SDLP MP Margaret Ritchie said the attack was an example of "mindless vandalism".
DUP assembly member Jim Wells described it as "an act of cowardice and destruction", while Ulster Unionist Harold McKee said it was "an absolute disgrace".