Jerusalem church meets again after attack

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JERUSALEM — Three days after an arson attempt on their building, the congregation of Jerusalem's Narkis Street Baptist Church was meeting again — with even more in attendance than the previous week.

Arsonists tried to burn down the building in the early morning hours of Oct. 24, but quick action by neighbors and then firefighters limited the damage to only chairs. Other items, such as the piano and pulpit, were spared. The building actually houses four congregations — Narkis Street Baptist, a second Baptist congregation, a Hebrew-speaking congregation and a Russian-speaking congregation.

"There was a large turnout over the weekend as a result of the fire," Bruce Mills, a deacon at Narkis Street, told Baptist Press. "All four congregations had a surge in attendance. And, in the community, we got letters of support and phone calls from all the different Jewish agencies."

The building survived in part because it is an all-stone structure. The Narkis Street building that burned down in 1982 was not.

There has not, though, been any new news on the police investigation. The 1982 fire was started by anti-missionary Orthodox Jewish militants.

"There is a special investigation team that investigates the event," police spokesman Shmuel Ben-Ruby said, according to Compass Direct News. "We take it very, very seriously."

The Israel Foreign Ministry office released a statement expressing "shock and dismay" at the "criminal act" and calling on law enforcement "to apprehend those responsible and bring them to justice."

"The Foreign Ministry expresses solidarity with the members of the Baptist congregation at this painful time and its readiness to help in any way needed," a statement from the office read. "To this end, the Ministry's representatives are in regular contact with the heads of the Baptist Church.

"The freedom of religion and worship are among the cornerstones of the State of Israel, and Israel will not allow any extremist elements to harm these freedoms."

Prior to the arson, no threats had been made against the building, church officials said.