If the arson attack at Rathfriland Baptist Church “had been spotted ten minutes later we would have lost the building”, Pastor Ian Wilson has revealed.
Speaking to the News Letter after an overnight arson attack where tyres were placed against the property and set alight, Pastor Wilson, 51, said he was “very thankful” that “a lady out walking her dogs spotted the fire and raised the alarm”.
Police are appealing for information following the arson attack at a church on the Loughbrickland Road which is believed to have taken place between 11pm and 11.30pm on Wednesday. A PSNI spokesman said one line of inquiry is whether the attack was sectarian.
Pastor Wilson said: “We are indebted to this lady and to the fire service who did a terrific job.
“The firemen said 10 minutes later and we would have lost the building. We are thankful for what has been saved, we will get it fixed up and we will move on.”
Pastor Wilson - who said around 130 people attend the church - said he “did not know if it was a sectarian attack”.
“We just don’t have difficulties in this area and never had before nor have any of the churches in this area so it really is a bolt out of the blue,” he added.
“This has come as a bit of a surprise. Rathfriland is a very peaceful town and a peaceful place to love.
“It is not something you expect in this rural community.”
The cleric, who spoke to the News Letter before he was allowed admittance to the church, said: “Where the tyres were piled, at a PVC window, it has melted and that is a large window in the church building.
“The fire then took hold and there is a lot of smoke damage that we can see and some water damage from where the firemen were putting the fire out.
“But it seems the building is sound from a layman’s perspective.”
He said the attack on the church “is a disappointment to us” and “it is an attack on every church”.
He added: “We think it is an attack on the Gospel and an attack on the Lord ultimately but we will pick ourselves up and move on. We will probably be out of the building for a while but we will rise up from this and move forward.”
He added: “Satan was not happy and he was letting us know that he was not happy, but this should not absolve the actions of those who carried this out from their responsibility.”
The attack was condemned by Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness who tweeted: “Disgusted at the arson attack on the Baptist Church in Rathfriland, Co Down last night. I hope the criminals responsible will be arrested.”