by Lisa Tome
The entire path of Diane Truitt's life changed at Baldwin United Methodist Church.
Truitt married her husband, Walter, at the church in 1980.
"People in the area are sad. This is heartbreaking for all of us. People have a lot of memories of that church. And the people that go there are nice people," said Truitt.
The church, in the 700 block of Elk Mills Road, near Cherry Hill, burned in the early morning hours of December 6. Investigators from the Office of the State Fire Marshal have determined that the fire was set in the interior of the church.
"The investigation has revealed the fire was incendiary in nature and intentionally set in the interior of the church," reported the fire marshal's office. No one was injured in the fire and damages are estimated at $300,000.
Since the fire, a fence and caution tape have been installed. a Christmas wreath hangs on the fence and an American flag hangs in the church doorway.
Officials at the county Department of Permits and Inspections said that a local contractor has been hired.
Truitt, who attends church at Cherry Hill, got married at Baldwin because at that time Baldwin was air conditioned. "It gave me good luck getting married there. This is such a shame," said Truitt.
Chassity Gray's great grandmother was one of the founders of the church. Her grandmother, the late Phyllis Peterson, was an anchor at the church and directed Vacation Bible School there for more than 50 years. Gray now attends the church with her sons, meaning that the church has been part of their family for five generations. Gray expressed her sadness and said it's difficult to discuss the issue because so much of her family history is in the church.
Singerly Fire Company provided leadership on the fire ground when the building burned. The company has a longstanding connection with the church said Singerly president Phil Scott. He explained that for years, Baldwin UMC members served at Singerly banquets.
Six days after the fire, Singerly allowed Baldwin's congregation to use Singerly Memorial Hall for a Christmas party. The church services are also being held at the fire company.
"They are using the hall for services and we are trying to accommodate them. We are helping facilitate their need. This is one public service group helping another. We are helping them out as best we can," said Scott. He also said that other churches and community organizations are also working to help Baldwin. "Other churches are also offering to help them. It's not just us," said Scott.
Anyone with information about this fire may call the Office of the State Fire Marshal at 410-836-4844 or the Arson Tip Hotline at 800-492-7529. Callers may remain anonymous.