‘You just pick up and go on’: An Episcopal congregation learns from arson

Recently in Shawnee County, Kansas, a judge for the third judicial district pronounced a sentence of two years’ probation on Trevor Powell Jones, 20, who was connected to acts of arson in two local church buildings in 2006 (but sentenced based on other crimes, including desecrating a cemetery). One of those churches was St. David’s Episcopal Church in Topeka.

James Carlson of the Topeka Capital-Journal writes that while St. David’s has come through this episode, the other congregation — Hillside Community Church — has not fared as well.

Suspicions that the arson was an inside job tore at some within the church. Losing its own space further eroded Hillside’s base.


Now, when the congregation meets in a clean remodeled sanctuary no bigger than a mobile home on S.W. 37th Street, it fills less than half the chairs. Ten members sat for last Sunday’s service where they heartbreakingly discussed disbanding altogether.

For its own part, St. David’s has emerged on the other side of the fiery trial with a new, $5.5m building to be dedicated on Nov. 10 (with a forthcoming organ), six services a week, and an intact congregation.

“It’s really not applicable when you consider the fire happened,” [Rector Don] Davidson said. “It caused a lot of damage and a lot of hurt feelings and emotional upset and took a toll on the church. That is fact. How it started, who started it and why really make little difference. You just pick up and go on.”

Last summer, the Capitol-Journal asked readers what punishment befit the crime of desecrating a church. Answers were as illuminating as they were scattershot. Wrote one visitor to the paper’s site,

Restitution, face to face apologies, for sure – actually physically working to restore the cemetary and other damage, too. Serious and long term counseling to understand what is wrong with this kid and why he is so angry/destructive. He deserves at least one chance at becoming a contributing citizen before he is thrown into prison and becomes a lifelong ward of the state supported by my taxes.

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