CATAWBA COUNTY, NC (WBTV) - A Catawba County church was vandalized and damaged by a fire investigators say was intentionally set.
Fire crews responded to Providence Baptist Church in Vale early Monday morning. As they were putting out the flames, they noticed something in spray paint – the words "Anti-Gay Hate Group."
Investigators have not said if the fire and spray painted message are connected.
Inside the fellowship hall that was not damaged, church members and others in the community packed inside Monday evening. They came to sing, to pray, and to say thank you to the fire crews.
"We're standing on holy ground, Amen?" a church member said from the microphone.
In the early morning hours clouds of smoke rose above the church's steeple. Local fire crews responded to a fire in the basement, rising into the sanctuary, and they found the painted message, accusing the church of being anti-LGBT.
"But we're not... that's the reason they need to get to know us," Pastor Ernie Richards said.
Investigators have not said if they know who could have set the fire, but church members said Monday night they would like to sit down with them.
"We're a church that's centered on love and compassion," Richards said.
Some members say they believe they could have been mistaken for another church in the county that is critical of the LGBT community.
They say they will continue their church functions and services in the fellowship hall, as the damaged area of the building is blocked off due to health concerns.
Investigators are asking anyone with information related to the fire to call the Catawba County Sheriff's Office.