Three years ago last week, arsonists burned a Springfield, Massachusetts church for two reasons: its congregation was predominately African-American and the United States had just elected an African-American president.
The church’s founder, Bryant Robinson, re-located to Massachusetts from Alabama years ago to get away from the violence and hatred of racism. His son, 74-year-old Bryant Robinson Jr., eventually took over as pastor, and in 2008 was over-seeing the construction of a new, bigger church just outside of town.
The building was only a few Sundays away from being completed when three men broke in on that fateful election night and splashed gasoline in the pastor’s office and lit a match.
In that congregation’s struggle to rebuild, a local church furniture company stepped in to help.
Affordable Church Furniture, a company that operates in the Autryville area, was contacted by the Macedonia Church of God in Christ looking for reasonably priced used pews, according to co-owner Norman McPhail.
“The church was on a very tight budget and they contacted us looking for used church pews because they thought that would be the most affordable,” McPhail explained.
Co-owner Terry Lee said their company was advertising used pews on the internet, which is how the pastor, Bishop Robinson, found the small Autryville business.
“Originally, they didn’t have any money available, so we put a deal together on some used furniture and we were going to help finance it for them,” Lee said.
Shortly afterwards, the bishop called back and said the church had managed to raise the money for new, nicer, furniture.
McPhail said he and Lee offered new pews at a reduced price, made to order straight from their Autryville location, and a deal was struck.
“We (McPhail and Lee) did most of the work ourselves just to help them stay within their budget,” he said. “It gave us a lot of satisfaction knowing we were able to help these people in need,” McPhail added.
Lee said the pastor and his congregation were very appreciative for what they were able to do for them.
“He is a very nice guy and very thankful. When we were at the church installing the pews, they brought lunch to us at the church, so we didn’t have to go out and buy something. They left the church open for us so we could work until nine or ten at night. It was a very nice experience,” he attested.
Lee said the Macedonia Church of God in Christ was a large church, but one most anyone would feel comfortable attending.
“No matter what geographical region you’re from or what denomination, I believe almost anyone would feel at home in this church because their focus is preaching the gospel,” he explained.
Earlier this month the church held its first Sunday service and the congregation filled those pews made and installed by Affordable Church Furniture.
The three suspects who burned the church were arrested last November. Two pleaded guilty and one was convicted after a trial. All three are in their mid-twenties and have begun serving prison sentences.