Pastor forgives, accepts man accused of burning down church
Pastor Curtis Stacey points to a trailer that allegedly caught fire when two men tried to steal aluminum. The fire from the trailer jumped to River of Life Christian Fellowship Church and destroyed the building.
While the community has chipped in to help Pastor Curtis Stacey and his congregation, the pastor has shown a unique ability to offer forgiveness to one of the men charged with arson.
Jerry Cotton, 61, and Mark A. Bailey, 38, both of St. Charles Street in New Sarpy, turned themselves in to police in connection with the fire. The two are charged with simple burglary of a religious building and simple arson.
During the investigation of the fire, police say they located some stolen property from the church at the two suspects’ residences.
Both men have pled not guilty in connection with the fire.
The fire occurred at about 8 p.m. on Oct. 17 and by the time it was put out, flames and damage had spread to every room of the building, which is on the corner of River Road and St. Charles Street.
Stacey said that the storage trailer was going to be removed and that the church staff was moving everything out of it. He said that somehow the two men found out that the trailer was going to be removed and decided to try to salvage materials from it. He believes that a torch was used to try to take aluminum off the side of the trailer, which resulted in the fire.
It appears that the fire then jumped from the trailer to the nearby church building.
After the St. Charles Parish Sheriff’s Office issued a warrant for Cotton, Stacey said he was visited by the 61-year-old and the two prayed together. Stacey then accompanied Cotton to the Sheriff’s Office so that he could turn himself in.
"He accepted Jesus Christ," Stacey said.
Once Cotton bailed out of jail, he visited the pastor at his home and apologized, Stacey said. The two hugged and Stacey said he even gave Cotton $20 to buy lunch. But before Cotton left, Stacey also made an unusual request.
"I asked him to consider joining our fellowship," Stacey said. "I didn’t think he would show up, but he joined us last week and is now a member of our congregation."
Stacey said that he also told authorities that he doesn’t want Cotton to serve time in jail.
"I think he should just get probation and have to do community service with me at the church," Stacey said. "I think the more I can be around him, the more I can help him change his life.
"You can always rebuild a building, but how many times do you get to change someone’s life?"
Community, churches and industry lend hand
After the fire, churches, industry and residents all chipped in to help the River of Life Christian Fellowship Church.
Stacey said that Valero and Boh Bros. Construction tore down the burned building free of charge to prepare the site for the construction of a new River of Life Christian Fellowship Church. Other parish churches and members of the community have also made donations to help the church get back on its feet.
"We still have a long way to go, but I have learned a lot about giving," Stacey said. "One pastor I had never met before showed up and gave me $3,800 that he had collected for us."
Stacey and his flock have also been able to continue their church services. Stacey said that two days after the fire, Rev. Henry LeBoyd Jr. visited him and said that the River of Life congregation could have their services at his church, which is only blocks away from Stacey’s destroyed church.
"I’m just putting it in God’s hands," Stacey said. "People have been giving to us and now we can concentrate on building a new church."
The church is accepting donations to help it rebuild. Donations can also be mailed to ROL Christian Church, P.O. Box 417, New Sarpy, LA 70078.
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