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Margarita Williams was the first to arrive at Mount Rock Baptist Church, in Goode, Sunday morning, to open it for Sunday morning worship. She noticed the widows were broken. It quickly became obvious that somebody had broken into the church and vandalized it.
Williams did not go inside, as she had no way of knowing if the vandal, or vandals, were still there. After a few phone calls, she waited in her car until a sheriff’s deputy arrived.
“I was just surprised when I walked in and saw all of this,” she said, Monday afternoon, standing in the church’s debris-littered sanctuary. “I just couldn’t believe it.”
“Everybody was just astonished,” said James Anderson III, a church member..
According to Sheriff Mike Brown, vandals got into the church sometime between 7 p.m. Saturday and 10 a.m. Sunday. The times were determined based on the time a church member had been in the church Saturday evening to clean it and the time the vandalism was discovered. The vandals gained entry by smashing small windows in the front door and then reaching in to unlock it.
The vandals broke almost every window in the church and a large stone, almost the size of a football, was still lying on the floor after having been thrown through a window. Fire extinguishers were discharged over the carpet in the sanctuary. A drum set was smashed, an antique chair was broken and hymnals were tossed on the floor. The floor was littered with shards of broken glass, much of it from the glass in the front of framed paintings, which had been pulled off the walls and smashed. An old pulpit Bible had also been tossed on the floor. The church’s computer was smashed. Sheriff Brown said the damage is estimated at $10,000.
“I’d say 10,000 is a low estimate,” Brown commented.
Mount Rock is the oldest black congregation in Bedford County, according to members. Williams said the congregation was established 154 years ago.
Brown does not think the vandalism is racially motivated. He believes the vandals are juveniles.
“We’ve started interviewing kids in the neighborhood,” he said.
Mount Rock’s current sanctuary was built with church members doing all the construction work.
“We built the church by hand,” said Hilton Jackson, a deacon.
Jackson, who grew up in the church was one of the members who worked on the building.
“It was kind of rough yesterday,” he said, describing his reaction to the damage to the sanctuary that he and fellow members had built with their own hands.
But he noted that they were actually fortunate.
“We’re still lucky,” he said. “They left the piano and the organ. They didn’t touch that.”
The vandals didn’t stop the congregation from worshiping, either. The sanctuary was a mess, so they held the service in the basement.
“I wasn’t going to let the devil stop us, no sir,” commented James Anderson Jr., chairman of the board of deacons.
The members of Mount Rock have, in their history, worshiped under spartan conditions in the past.
A church history, provided by Kim Anderson, the church’s secretary states: “The Mount Rock Baptist church was organized during the late days of slavery and is said to be the oldest African-American church in Bedford County."
"Meetings and prayer services were held in the woods of the Charlemont Mountains with an arbor as the church’s only shelter. The minister mounted a large rock on which to stand to deliver his sermons; thus, Mount Rock received its name.”
The history goes on to state that the church’s first building was a log cabin. It was destroyed by fire and replaced by a clapboard building in 1880. That building is still standing, near the current building which replaced it in the late 20th century. One older member, pointing it out on Monday afternoon, noted that it still has it’s bell in it’s bell tower.
The Bedford County Sheriff’s Office is currently working to locate the perpetrators of the vandalism. Anyone with information is asked to call the Sheriff’s Office at (540) 586-7827 or Crime Stoppers at 1-888-798-5900.