< Episcopal News and Current Events -- News About ECUSA: Another Arson Fire in One of Our Churches, in Topeka, Kansas Episcopal News and Current Events -- News About ECUSA: Another Arson Fire in One of Our Churches, in Topeka, Kansas
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Saturday, November 11, 2006

Another Arson Fire in One of Our Churches, in Topeka, Kansas

Officials say Topeka church fire was arson

Associated Press

TOPEKA - Arson was the cause of a Friday morning fire that gutted the interior of a Topeka church, including its sanctuary, a local official said.

Authorities estimated damage to St. David's Episcopal Church at between $2.5 million and $3 million, though its walls and most of its roof were intact after firefighters from five engine companies subdued the blaze.

No injuries were reported, but the congregation faces rebuilding the church.

"Fire officials have determined this to be an arson fire," said Greg Bailey, the local fire marshal, declining to give more details because an investigation was continuing.

Church and fire department officials said the fire might have started in a chapel and spread through the adjacent, larger main sanctuary.

Authorities' conclusion that the blaze was no accident stunned church members.

"We're processing the information," said Margaret Telthorst, the head of the church's governing council. "We're grieving, and we're comforting each other."

She wouldn't speculate on who might have set the fire. "Every organization is going to have people who disagree with it, but there's nothing we can even begin to speculate about," she said.

The church, founded in 1953, has 600 to 700 members and is among Kansas' 10 largest Episcopal parishes.

"We may be experiencing a total loss here," said Dean Wolfe, the Episcopal bishop for Kansas. "It's more substantial than we originally thought."

Wolfe and the Rev. Don Davidson, the church's rector, said several area churches from different denominations immediately offered the use of their buildings. St. David's, which normally has services at 8 a.m. and 10:30 a.m., plans to have its Sunday service at 1:30 p.m. at a nearby Lutheran church.

The Episcopal church moved its offices to a nearby vacant home it owns.

Davidson said the loss is difficult for church members because the building is where important events in their lives, including marriages and funerals, occur.

The church's chapel normally is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The blaze was reported to Topeka firefighters shortly after 5 a.m., and they had it under control within the hour, though it wasn't reported as fully out for several more hours.


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