Pastor plans shelter on church grounds

June 9, 2009 5:42:43 PM PDT
An empty historic church was destroyed by fire. Now, the pastor says he has bigger plans for the property and those plans have some people upset.An abandoned church is now a pile of rubble. After a weekend fire the pastor says he wants to put a homeless shelter in at the site of the old Bible Way Baptist Church on Andrews at Mathews. Neighbors we talked to say they were already having problems with what was going on there before the fire.

One thing about the fire at the old Bible Way Baptist Church is not in dispute -- it was arson, according to the Houston Fire Department. But the mystery of how it got started and the plans for the site are highlighting a long-standing disagreement between the newer neighbors and the near half century old church.

A pile of burned rubble is all that's left of the Bible Way Baptist Church in Houston's Fourth Ward, where a congregation used to worship. The pastor and the church's neighbors think it was set by an arsonist early Saturday morning.

"We found a propane tank in there," said Pastor O.B. Brown. "That's where the explosion came from."

"It was like somebody was hitting," recalled neighbor Yosde Arenas. "I thought somebody was fighting."

The church moved just a few blocks away some years ago, but the pastor says he had plans for the old church -- either a homeless shelter or drug rehab center. Neither sits well with the neighbors. They say the old church had become a gathering place for vagrants and drug addicts.

Arenas said, "Since I have been here in the area for four years, it's been trouble because of lot of people come here to sleep, sell drugs."

One neighbor didn't want us to show her face on camera. She was afraid, she said, of retribution from drug dealers.

She said, "To me, putting a homeless shelter or a drug rehab in that area would be like putting alcohol at an AA meeting. You know, there's just drugs on every corner."

But the pastor doesn't think the fire was started by a drug addict. And he says there are bad feelings between the decades-old church and its new neighbors, who've moved in during this last 10 years.

"They wasn't happy when they moved in," said Pastor Brown. "I was there. They wasn't. So you don't come here, move in and decide in your little meetings what ain't gonna be."

The Houston Fire Department says the fire is still under investigation. The Bible Way Baptist fire is the third church fire in that Fourth Ward neighborhood in the last three years.

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