Leaders of the Broadmoor United Methodist Church pledged to "bring beauty out of these ashes" after a second fire on their campus in a week.
A fire early Wednesday was blamed on arson, and one early Friday was still being investigated. The church's senior pastor, Rev. Donnie Wilkinson, posted a video on social media Friday asking church members to pray with him for "whoever has done this terrible thing" and hoping for repentance and justice.
Wilkinson compared the church's despair to the time Jesus spent laying in the tomb after his death before rising again on Easter morning.
"Broadmoor will rise again," he said. "We may be in the midst of a holy Saturday when we grieve what is lost, but we do so as people with hope. We grieve as people who know that our God will give us what we need to rise again."
Both fires were reported in the overnight hours at the church property on Mollylea Drive at its intersection with Sharp Road, the first around 12:15 a.m. Wednesday and the second around 4:30 a.m. Friday, according to the Baton Rouge Fire Department.
The first fire occurred in a detached building of the church, a meeting room that was a total loss, department spokesman Mark Miles said. It was determined to be the result of arson, but Miles said investigators haven't identified a suspect yet.
The second occurred closer to the church sanctuary, in an office that's connected by a breezeway, Miles said. The sanctuary itself wasn't damaged but light smoke did get inside.
Miles said fire officials haven't concluded at this point whether the two incidents are related, but he noted that it's odd to have two fires on the same property so close together.
Wilkinson said the church is continuing its work in the meantime, including distributing meals to people who need them amid the ongoing coronavirus crisis. Several volunteers are also sewing masks for health care workers.
He said a fundamental belief of Christianity is that "evil and awful things are real and they happen, but God is with us in the midst of that."
The church was founded almost 65 years ago on a dirt road in southeast Baton Rouge. The surrounding community and the congregation itself have grown since then, in numbers and diversity, Wilkinson said.
"Fire's not gonna stop us," Wilkinson said. "We look forward to the victory that we have in Christ and we look forward to seeing how God will bring beauty out of these ashes."