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AUSTIN (KXAN) — A little over 24 hours after a Sunday service, Goodwill Baptist Church Senior Pastor Kelvin Austin got a late call that the building was on fire.
He didn’t know what to think at first and didn’t want to jump to conclusions.
But on Tuesday morning, Austin Fire Department investigators concluded an “incendiary device” started the fire, causing $200,000 worth of damages, in total. Someone intentionally set the fire, according to AFD.
“[The fact that] someone would destroy a historical icon that’s been in this community as long as it has been… deeply heartbreaking,” Austin said.
Goodwill Baptist Church sits in what was formerly known as the Freedom Colony of Brackenridge. This is where slaves worked in labor camps and on plantations.
Austin said the church was founded by freed slaves nearly 120 years ago.
There is smoke and water damage throughout the church into the sanctuary. On Tuesday, workers boarded up the building.
There are charred pieces everywhere with glass windows in the sanctuary now burned.
“I just for the life of me… We’ve never had a cross word with anybody in the community,” Austin said. “They’ve always been encouraging…. Heartbreaking to know that somebody in this season would do something like that to God’s house.”
AFD put the fire out about five minutes after it began, according to Austin.
Neighbors who pass by the church every day can’t think why anyone might do this either.
“I’m very sorry to hear that, because know that this church has great cultural significance for the neighborhood,” neighbor Caroline Chamberlain said.
Though Goodwill Baptist is burned, Austin said their spirit is not broken. He’s planning to do everything he can to keep his congregation uplifted. That will start with his next Sunday sermon.
“When the unexpected shows up, I think that’s the text we’ll be using,” Austin said. “Spiritually, we’re in good shape…. We’re going to be OK.”
AFD wouldn’t say what kind of incendiary device was used but did confirm there’s now a criminal investigation.
Goodwill Baptist’s congregation is mostly elderly, so they’re thankful no one was at church at the time of the fire.
They’ll be going back to virtual services for a while, according to Austin. He also said they plan to install security cameras.
Anyone who is interested in helping out can reach out to the church directly.
Attacks on houses of worship do fall under hate crime laws. In fact, after a rise in hate crime attacks during the pandemic, Congress passed a law to allow states to create and operate hate crime reporting hotlines.