On Monday, the nation celebrated the life and work of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. But on one of the last days of 2020, the Martin Luther King, Jr. Presbyterian Church in Springfield was set ablaze.
Since then, a suspect has been arrested for allegedly starting the fire. But now, the church needs to be rebuilt.
Connecting Point‘s Ross Lippman met with pastor Rev. Dr. Terrlyn Curry Avery and members of the church to discuss what the church has meant to the community over the last 40 years. They also share how they continue to honor the legacy of Dr. King as they face the challenge of rebuilding the church.
Read the transcript
Zydalis Bauer, Connecting Point: On Monday, as a nation, we celebrated the life and work of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. But on one of the last days of 2020, the Martin Luther King Jr. Presbyterian Church in Springfield was set ablaze. Since then, a suspect has been arrested for allegedly starting the fire. But now the church needs to be rebuilt. Connecting Point’s Ross Lippman met with members of the church and its pastor to discuss what the MLK church has meant to the community over the last 40 years and how they continue to honor the legacy of Dr. King as they face this new challenge.
Rev. Dr. Terrlyn Curry Avery, MLK Presbyterian Church: And you all can turn facing me this way, please.
Ross Lippman, Connecting Point: Next to the boarded up windows of a place they once gathered to pray.
Rev. Dr. Terrlyn Curry Avery: And if you could spread out, that would be good because it’s still COVID.
Ross Lippman: Reverend Dr. Terrlyn Curryy Avery is meeting with a handful of congregants. (background singing) It’s the first time they’ve been together in the New Year. And over the last 40 years, the Martin Luther King Presbyterian Church has been a fixture in Springfield’s Mason Square neighborhood. As 2020 drew to an end, residents woke to see that the church was burning.
Sandra Moultrie, Church Member: My initial feeling was what? The church is on fire? I was a little surreal.
Ross Lippman: An arrest has been made in connection to the fire. Now,
Rev. Dr. Terrlyn Curry Avery: (So I’d like to just read this piece to you.)
Ross Lippman: Dr. Curry Avery turns toward healing and rebuilding.
Rev. Dr. Terrlyn Curry Avery: (Think about where do we want to go as a church? Who do we want to serve? Because we have work to do even while this church is being rebuilt.)
Ross Lippman: But rather than citing scripture, she chooses to read the words of the church’s namesake from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s speech. “Where do we go from here?”
Rev. Dr. Terrlyn Curry Avery: Let us be satisfied until that day when nobody will shout white power, when nobody will shout black power, but everybody will talk about God’s power and human power.
And I know that you all ought to be saying “amen!” because it’s still the same today.
Ross Lippman: When do you think you really were able to process the fact that this had happened here?
Rev. Dr. Terrlyn Curry Avery: I think I’m still processing it, if I’m being honest, because there are times when I get — you know, it’s been go, go, go. But when I had that moment to just to kind of sit and say, “OK, there’s no church building there anymore. And so now there’s a lot of work ahead of us.”
Ross Lippman: Is this going to have to be a total rebuild?
Rev. Dr. Terrlyn Curry Avery: Well, it will be a total rebuild. The damage itself and the inside has been estimated at one hundred thousand dollars’ worth of damage.
Rev. Dr. Terrlyn Curry Avery: (I mean, look around at how many people showed up here today from a phone calls and text messages yesterday.)
Ross Lippman: The members of the church, weathering the cold to gather, also bring pictures from some of their favorite memories at the church, like James Watts.
The one that’s framed there? Can you show me the framed photo?
James Watts, Church Member: This one here is probably from the early 90s. This is probably an Easter celebration. This is me and my stepdaughter. It’s always a heart felt thing is, when you came to MLK, you felt like family.
Ross Lippman:: In the months before the fire, the church remained empty, the pandemic forcing services to be held online.
Ross Lippman: 2020 was a year where, we as a nation, confronted racial injustice in a way that we hadn’t since Dr. King had been alive. And for you on one of the very last days of 2020 for this church to be burned, what did that mean to you and what did that mean to the congregants here?
Rev. Dr. Terrlyn Curry Avery: You know, sadly, I can’t say that a church burning, a black church burning, is a surprise because historically that’s what’s happened in this country when people want to terrorize people of color or really want to say, “I don’t like you” or “you’re worthless” or really to take your spirit, because that’s what this is about when it’s a church.
Ross Lippman: But if this brief gathering in the parking lot is any indication, their spirit has not been broken.
James Watts: People have asked me, “do you think MLK will survive” And I had to tell them we’ve never really gone anywhere. We’ve been on media as far as the Zoom and everything like that. But MLK is always going to be a beacon of light somewhere in this community.
Sandra Moultrie: This church being in his name, we are about what Dr. King was about. So, we want to be out here to love and support our community, and that will continue.