Hit by alleged arson, church lifts up Jesus
ALBANY — An alleged arson last month at a local school destroyed all the belongings of a church that had just barely started meeting there. Yet the church chose to continue there and only days later had a tremendous Easter service, according to the lead pastor.
“It was a crazy week, but God was glorified in all of it,” Pastor Nathan Riley wrote in an update to friends of Hub City Church. “We decided to meet at South Albany High School anyway. Something about worshipping in the midst of the mess — where the smell of smoke and charred wood still hung in the air — seemed to reek of resurrection.”
Furthermore, news coverage of the fire and the challenge it posed to the church increased the Easter attendance, according to Riley: “Easter’s turnout was great. Probably twice our usual attendance, with a lot of unbelievers who had been following our story.”
Not only did the church baptize three people, he said, but it took a special offering for the high school’s fire restoration fund. A total of $14,000 was raised — about 20 times the church’s normal offering.
Also, an overwhelming number of donations came in from the community to help replace the thousands of dollars in insured sound equipment, instruments, and supplies the church had recently purchased but lost in the fire.
The story was broadcast throughout the Northwest. “It turned into quite of bit of exposure for the gospel — a chance to declare that Christ conquered the grave to a lot more people than attended our gathering,” Riley wrote.
The Easter service — using rented equipment — was held in the school gym — directly adjacent to the cafeteria which had burned down along with the church belongings.
The four-alarm fire broke out about 3:20 a.m. Wednesday, April 1 — less than 72 hours after the church had held its first service in the cafeteria. The blaze also destroyed the school’s band and choir rooms. The building is separate from others on the campus. As many as 70 firefighters from across the region helped put out the fire and prevented it from spreading to other buildings on the campus at 3705 S.E. Columbus St.
That evening, police arrested a 28-year-old Albany resident, Zachary Lee Burghart, for first-degree arson in the school blaze, The Oregonian reported. He also was arrested on first-degree arson accusations in a fire that destroyed a travel trailer that morning about one quarter-mile southwest of the school.
The newspaper said Burghart was booked into Linn County Jail on accusations of three counts of first-degree arson, two counts of first-degree criminal mischief and two counts of failure to perform duties of a driver. Police said Burghart allegedly caused damage to the school’s parking lot gates and also used his car to damage the travel trailer.
According to court records, Burghart was sentenced last fall to five days in the county jail, fined $200 and placed on probation for 60 months for earlier convictions on two counts of second-degree arson and two counts of first-degree criminal mischief.
In an interview with detectives, Burghart, a U.S. Navy veteran, indicated he suffers from post-traumatic stress syndrome, the newspaper added.