Pastor of Burned Church Encouraged by Love

By Laura Erlanson

Though Pastor Philip Pham and the members of Vietnamese Baptist Church are sad and frustrated by the burning of their church building on Tuesday night (Oct. 27), they have also been encouraged by the many expressions of love and support they have received.

On Saturday morning (Oct. 31), a group of about 10 pastors showed up at the remains of the building to pray. Pham didn’t know them and didn’t know they were coming. They just came and asked how they could pray. He said it was just the latest example of the family of God taking care of its own.

“We have received uncounted, generous, loving care and prayers from brothers and sisters and from the community,” Pham said. “… Emails, text messages, true love of Christ. Our church members have seen that and were so encouraged. They have been encouraged so much.”

Pham said he does not want the incident to be politicized. “I don’t want people to take the event at the church to make it worse,” he said. “People need to be forgiving. I’m frustrated why people did this to the church. It’s really hard to understand. But on all sides, I call for people to learn how to love one another. In order to unify, we need to learn how to love one another … love is the solution.”

The fire occurred during a night when protests over the police shooting death of a black man roiled the city of Philadelphia, but the cause of the fire is still unknown. An official with the fire marshal’s office told Baptist Press the initial investigation indicated it was an accident. A police department spokesperson said it is not being investigated as arson.

Pham said he is convinced the fire was not an accident. He said it appears the fire started on the roof and worked its way down. Also, Pham said that when he arrived at the scene Tuesday evening as firefighters were extinguishing the blaze, a bystander told him he had called 911 when he saw a group of young people throw chemicals on the church’s roof and light the fire.

Pham said he does not know the bystander. But he told Baptist Press and the Philadelphia Inquirer that he met the man at the AutoZone auto parts store across the street from the church. An employee of the AutoZone told Baptist Press the store was looted the same night. Philadelphia has seen widespread unrest following the police shooting, which occurred Monday (Oct. 26).

Although the church is several miles from the area where the main protests and turmoil occurred, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported Saturday that other incidents, including damage to property and burglaries, took place across the city, “primarily in locations far from the protests.”

Pham’s desire now is for his church to begin rebuilding. He said he believes the money the church will collect from insurance will be about $150,000 short of what rebuilding will cost. The church’s youth have set up a GoFundMe page, which had garnered about $18,000 by early Saturday afternoon. And Pham has secured a location for the church to meet at a nearby school for the next five months at $5,000 a month.

Laura Erlanson is the managing editor of Baptist Press.

Cover photo by Pastor Philip Pham.