Northern Ireland

Baptist church in Rathfriland damaged in arson attack

Firefighters tackle the fire at Rathfriland Baptist Church Image copyright Press Eye
Image caption The church building was damaged by the fire on Wednesday night

A County Down Baptist congregation will have to find another place for worship after its church building was damaged by arsonists, its pastor has said.

Tyres were placed against Rathfriland Baptist Church on the town's Loughbrickland Road and were set on fire after 23:00 BST on Wednesday.

The incident was "an attack on the gospel", Pastor Ian Wilson said.

Image copyright Press Eye
Image caption Tyres had been placed against the side of the church and set on fire

It had shocked people in the "peaceful" town and it will be weeks before the building is fit for use, he added.

The side of the building was damaged and windows were broken, while the inside sustained smoke and water damage.

Pastor Wilson tweeted that in spite of the "setback we can rejoice knowing that the devil may roar but Christ reigns".

Image caption Pastor Ian Wilson said the arson was an attack on the gospel

"This is not just an attack on Rathfriland Baptist, but I feel it's an attack on every church in the town and on the community," he told the BBC.

"But I think above all it's an attack on the Lord and the gospel.

"We're just here to preach the gospel and we will continue to do that in spite of the fire - in fact, we will want to redouble our efforts."

Image caption Church members surveyed the damage to the church on Thursday morning

The church hopes meet in the town's high school on Sunday, while other meetings will take place in Rathfriland Elim church.

"It'll take a number of weeks to have the building back in good, safe condition," Pastor Wilson added.

The attack was an example of "mindless vandalism", South Down MP Margaret Ritchie of the SDLP said.

"Places of worship are sacred and should be wholly exempt from vicious, cowardly attacks of this nature," she added.

Image caption Police have appealed for witnesses to contact them

Sinn Féin MLA Chris Hazzard said the attack was wrong and would "cause a great deal of distress to those who use the church".

Ulster Unionist MLA Harold McKee said the arson was "an absolute disgrace".

Democratic Unionist Party MLA Jim Wells said it had been "an act of cowardice and destruction".

Image caption It will take weeks to repair the damage

'Smashed'

In a separate incident, a window has been smashed at a Baptist church in County Fermanagh.

Image caption This Baptist church in Enniskillen, County Fermanagh, was also attacked

The attack happened at the church on the Cornagrade Road in Enniskillen.

Image caption Damage was done to a window in the entrance hall