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.
After an overnight arson attack on Wednesday 18th May 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. 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.
A spokesman from Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service said they were treating the fire at Loughbrickland Road, Rathfriland as “deliberate”.
Pastor Wilson 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.”
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.
“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.”