Despite some difficult circumstances, The Axis Church is still spinning.
Members of the church, located in downtown Nashville, gathered for an on-campus worship service Sept. 19 — just six days after an arsonist set fire to the building and caused extensive damage. The arsonist threw a Molotov cocktail through a church window on the night of Sept. 13.
Pastor Jeremy Rose said the service was a crucial first step in the healing process.
“For our church, I think this was kind of like 9-11, on a much smaller scale,” Rose said during an interview with the Baptist and Reflector. “So, we need a ‘George Bush throwing out the first pitch’ type of thing to happen. And we felt (the Sunday service) would offer that type of moment.”
Rose estimated the damage caused by the fire to be “easily a quarter of a million dollars.” The church lost 300 chairs (used for worship services and other gatherings) and all of its sound-system equipment. Soot and smoke caused damage to walls and ceilings.
Firefighters arrived at the church around 2 a.m. Sept. 14 and extinguished a small fire inside the building, according to published reports. The incident — which drew coverage from each of the major network TV affiliates in the Nashville market — did not result in any injuries, but left emotional scarring for the Axis members.
Rose said the church is already moving ahead, and said he is using the incident to fuel his enthusiasm for sharing the gospel and reaching the lost.
“In my 12 years since we planted the church, I have never been more excited,” he said. “There has been so much clarity from the Lord during all of this. It just like, oh yeah, this is why we are here. We are in the right place.”
The church’s surveillance cameras captured footage of the bottle coming through the window. The incident is under investigation, with numerous government agencies — including the Metro Nashville police, the Nashville Fire Department and the the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) — involved in the search for the suspect.
Rose said he has heard several theories on the possible motive for the crime, but said, for now, he believes it was a random act.
“I don’t take it personal, and I am not claiming persecution,” he said. “To me, this feels like a random act, and I don’t feel targeted, and I don’t feel like a victim. If anything, I feel energized and motivated.”
Rose was greeted with the news of the church fire on the morning of Sept. 14.
“I had about 20 missed called on my phone when I got up (that morning),” he said. “And some of the voicemails were from a special agent, a detective, ADT security, policemen, firemen — just all kinds of people. At that point, it was so bizarre that it almost didn’t seem real.”
Rose arrived on the church campus about 5:30 a.m., and was initially told the fire might have been caused by an electrical wire, possibly from a coffee maker. But after watching the surveillance footage, Rose saw images of the bottle breaking through the window. Later, while walking the grounds, Rose found the bottle in the foyer.
“At that point, the story kind of shifted,” said Rose, noting that the incident then became classified as a federal crime and an act of terrorism against a place of worship. “Within five minutes (of Rose seeing the footage and alerting authorities), the building was packed with people — federal officials and others like that.”
The bottle that contained the Molotov cocktail did not explode when it hit the ground. If it had, the fire would have burned much faster, and the damage would have been even greater, Rose said. The bottle did start a fire on the rug — and subsequently, the lobby — and left an enormous amount of smoke residue and soot, which caused the most damage. HazMat and ServePro units helped clear the area.
Plan to worship
Just two days after the incident, Rose announced that the church would be holding a worship gathering the following Sunday.
In an email to church members, Rose started with the words: “THIS SUNDAY!” The email informed readers that “Progress is being made throughout the building, and we have been given the green light from ServPro under government safety approval that we will be able to open part of our building. … We will be gathering at The Axis Church for one shortened service (on Sept. 19).”
Because certain parts of the campus remain closed, several adjustments were made for the Sunday service, including a limited number of entry ways and limited parking areas. Also, members were asked to bring their own chairs.
Rose noted in the email that even through the church’s electrical equipment was damaged, the church was going to find a way to livestream the Sunday service.
“It might be streaming from an iPhone on a tripod, but we will make it happen,” he said.
Rose told the B&R that he is eager to see how God will use this incident for His glory.
“Throughout this process, almost from the moment that I first found out about it, I’ve been excited,” he said. “This is an awesome opportunity for us to reach people. … When this happened, it became clear to me: This is all the more reason for our church to be here. Because there is violence, because there’s crime — those are all the more reasons for churches to be in the community.”
EDITOR’S NOTE — David Dawson is communications specialist for the Baptist and Reflector, where this story originally appeared.