Braving a bitter wind, civic and religious leaders stood Sunday before the burned-out remains of Grace Hungarian Reformed Church in Reseda and pledged to support the rebuilding of the sanctuary destroyed by a suspected arson and to back efforts aimed at catching whoever is responsible.
The sanctuary was gutted Dec. 13 in the third suspicious fire at the church in less than nine months. And last Thursday, the church's temporary office was burglarized, leading members to suspect that they have been the targets of a hate crime.
"Events like this do not put a dent in the faith of the people," Davida Foy Crabtree, conference minister for the United Churches of Christ, told a crowd of nearly 300 gathered in the church's parking lot. "This will not stop this church. Indeed, this church will be stronger because of that act."
Crabtree was joined by Los Angeles City Councilwoman Joy Picus and Deputy Los Angeles Police Chief Mark A. Kroeker in condemning the fires. "We will not tolerate this activity in our city, in our country, in our community," said Picus, who has introduced a motion that the City Council offer a $10,000 reward for information about the suspected arson.
In the week since the fire caused $300,000 in damage, congregations across Southern California have offered financial and moral support to the church. Until more permanent quarters can be found, the congregation will meet at Fountain Springs Foursquare Church in Reseda, Pastor Balint Nagy said.
A Salvadoran congregation that also met at the church has been convening in members' houses as it searches for a new home. Nagy said his church plans to rebuild but added that it may take as long as a year.
In the meantime, church members said, they will continue to meet wherever they can.
"The church has not burned. The building has burned," said Madison Shockley, pastor of the Congregational Church of Christian Fellowship in Los Angeles. "You are the church and your spirit cannot be destroyed by any flame."