It’s a little difficult to focus on building a new church—when you find a cross burned on your property.
Such is the situation at Turning Leaf of the Nazarene Church, being built in unincorporated Maricopa County just outside Glendale.
The church has been celebrating services at its temporary home of Heritage School in Glendale.
Groundbreaking for the permanent church is scheduled for 9 a.m. Sunday, Sept. 27, on Litchfield Road just south of Bethany Home Road.
“We don’t have a physical address yet,” Pastor Jeff Fillis said.
“It’ll be a one-hour service on our land,” he said. “We’re asking people to bring their own chairs, and we’ll let them sit anywhere on the property.”
Many of the patrons will likely shake their heads in disgust, looking at a partially charred cross—a longtime landmark on the property (previously owned by another church).
The night of Sept. 14, the church received a call from the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office informing them the cross was on fire.
How it started is a bit of a controversy.
“I read the report, and according to the fire department there were no suspicious circumstances,” said Sgt. Joaquin Enriquez of the MCSO.
“They believe it was due to a battery pack that was attached, and there was a chemical smell to it.”
Though the cross did have lights, Fillis and others with the church are confident that didn’t start the fire.
The cross also had a camera—which shows a man in the act of arson, several say.
“We have trail cam footage of the guy with gas cans and an explosion of fire,” Fillis said.
Jim LaRue, a church volunteer with an engineering background, agrees.
“It was a definite arson,” said LaRue. “There is more damage at the bottom of the cross than the top.”
Fillis stressed that, though shaken by the incident, the church is ready to forgive and forget.
“We’re not trying to shame the guy or make him hated by the community,” the pastor said.
“Our attitude is we want it to be forgiveness, even if he’s not asking for it—as we are in this society where there’s so much hatred and division. We want to be people who are loving and bringing people together.”
He added that the church is putting new lights on the cross.
“It’s burnt but not falling over,” he said.
“Eventually, we’ll be putting a new cross up.”