OAK PARK – Members of St. Paul Missionary Baptist Church, one of Sacramento’s largest Black churches, are thanking God after a suspected arsonist struck there this week.
A 61-year-old man, Weun Luang Lee has been arrested after he allegedly set fire to St. Paul and another Oak Park area church, Central International Fellowship late Tuesday night. The fire at St. Paul was reported at 11:56 p.m. and the second at 12:27 a.m.
Lee, who officials say was seen by witnesses running away from one of the fires, was booked into the Sacramento County Jail at 3:06 a.m. and is charged with two felony counts of arson.
St. Paul’s administrative assistant Lamont Harris says the fire did not impact the sanctuary, and damage was kept to the reception area of the administrative offices and the entry to the library area. Damage came as a result of both the flames and water from the church’s sprinkler system.
Administrative staff, Harris says, will be relocated to the adjacent Ephraim Williams Family Life Center until accessers come out and repairs are made.
Central International Fellowship wasn’t as lucky. The smaller church, located at 4760 16th Avenue, had “severe damage” according to its pastor and may need to level it’s sanctuary and rebuild.
The neighboring churches have fellowshipped in the past. Harris said he went over Central Internationaship Fellowship after learning that it had also been struck. He says the St. Paul family and its pastor Rev. Ephraim Williams, are grateful that many, including area clergy, Mayor Darrell Steinberg and Sacramento Police Chief Daniel Hahn, have already done the same for them, calling in and stopping by to check that everyone was alright.
“There’s been a tremendous outpouring of support from the community,” Harris shared.
The suspect in the fires may also be charged with a hate crime.
St. Paul, Harris says, has never received any threats. People used to have more respect for churches, though, he added.
“That’s changed in the last 10 years,” he reflected.
Church burnings and bombings are a common crime for racists, as are other forms of vandalism. A Sikh temple in Orangevale was vandalized last week; a swastika and the words “White power” were drawn near the building’s entrance. Graffiti was also found at University AME Zion Church, the oldest Black church in Palo Alto, in late December, including the words “F***k God” and “God causes pain.” A number of church shootings have also rocked congregations across the country.
Harris says St. Paul considers themselves blessed in that the fire will not take them off course.
“There will be service on Sunday,” he said.
By Genoa Barrow | Senior Staff Writer
Photos by Robert Maryland