Pastor Rodrick Burton plans to spend his day walking to the four other black churches besides his own that have been damaged by fire in the last two weeks in the St. Louis area.
“To show solidarity,” Burton said. And to raise awareness about the recent spate of fires, something he believes hasn’t gotten nearly enough attention. “This is an opportunity for the black and white community to come together,” Burton said of the fires.
The blazes in all five churches, four of which are clustered just north of St. Louis County, have similarities, fire department Chief Dennis M. Jenkerson told NBC News. It is not yet known if the fires were set by the same person or group of people. Fusion reached out to the St. Louis County Fire Department and Police Department but did not hear back by time of publication.
“What’s most disappointing for me isn’t the attacks,” said Burton, of the Northside Missionary Baptist Church, whose church door was burned last Saturday. The fire, according to the pastor, has been labeled an arson. “I have just been stunned by the apathetic response in the faith community. I have been stunned by the lack of response, period,” he continued. “Everyone should be upset when religious freedom is attacked.”
“We’re about a mile from Ferguson and I was involved in so many different meetings,” said Burton of the period of protest after 18-year-old Michael Brown was shot and killed last August. “Was all that just a bunch of talk?”
Burton said the church has received two donations to help repair its original stained glass door, built in 1948. But it’s not enough, he says—the repairs will cost at least $5,000. “We’re not rolling in cash,” he said. “Our congregants are working-class, economically distressed moms, a lot of underemployed and unemployed.” Burton also lamented needing to purchase a security camera, something he had hoped he never had to do.
The recent spate of church fires in St. Louis follows the string of church burnings which came after June's attack on the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, which left nine parishioners dead.
"I feel like this is a hate crime," Shirley Robinson, a longtime parishioner at St. Augustine Catholic Church, a predominantly black church which had its doors burnt last Wednesday, told Fusion. "Our congregation is worried about it. It's such a different feeling and attitude since it happened. We're fearing for our safety and praying for peace."
Early estimates to replace the damaged 100-year-old doors at the church have run as much as $10,000, she said. "It's shocking, it's appalling, it's hateful and it's uncomfortable," she added.
Between 2009 and 2013, Fusion has previously reported, there have been 53 church burnings in the U.S. that have been deemed as hate crimes. None of them were in the St. Louis metropolitan area.
“Black houses [of worship] have been disproportionately targeted for a few reasons,” Vincent Warren, executive director at the Center for Constitutional Rights, a non-profit legal and educational organization, told Fusion in July. “First, depending on the community, the black church can symbolize a social stability, which the perpetrator seeks to disrupt.”
That's part of the reason Pastor Burton will be out knocking on doors of fellow churches today. If the surrounding community won't come out and support the congregations, then who else will?
“If this happened to a mosque or synagogue I would say something,” said Burton. “I haven’t heard anything from anyone.”
Daniel Rivero is a producer/reporter for Fusion who focuses on police and justice issues. He also skateboards, does a bunch of arts related things on his off time, and likes Cuban coffee.
Collier Meyerson is a reporter at Fusion with a focus on race and politics. She lives in Brooklyn.