Authorities continue to investigate a fire that took place July 9 at North Bethesda United Methodist Church. (Robert R. Roberts/The Washington Informer)
Authorities continue to investigate a fire that took place July 9 at North Bethesda United Methodist Church. (Robert R. Roberts/The Washington Informer)

Montgomery County authorities continue investigating fires at two churches and vandalism at another church last weekend in Bethesda.

All three churches are located on the same street along Old Georgetown Road.

The Rev. Samuel Giese of St. Jane Frances de Chantel Parish said Tuesday, July 12 there “was not really substantial damage” to the church. Some of the items affected in the fire reported around 2 a.m. Sunday, July 10 include books, statues pulled from their stands and a burned American flag. 

Giese said services have been moved to the church’s school gymnasium. No timetable has been set for when services will resume in the church, which has between 1,700 to 1,800 registered households.

“What I’ve been telling people here at the church and everywhere else is that we are the church. We are living stones of the church. Jesus Christ is the capstone. We, with faith in our hearts, are the mystical body of Christ here,” said Giese, who celebrated his 10-year anniversary at the church July 6.

Damaged gravestones at Wildwood Baptist Church in Bethesda, Maryland, are shown here on July 11. Montgomery County fire officials continue to investigate the vandalism and fire to two other churches on the same street. (Robert R. Roberts/The Washington Informer)

“What will be more distressing to me than any damage to the church is for people to be discouraged and people to lose their faith,” he said. 

Prior to the fire at St. Jane, firefighters sprung into action to extinguish a fire Saturday, July 9 at North Bethesda United Methodist Church.

Pete Piringer, spokesperson for the Montgomery County Fire and Rescue, posted Sunday on his Twitter page the estimated “arson and associated vandalism” damage at $1,000. He also noted additional damage to gravestones and “broken pieces of wood” from nearby Wildwood Baptist Church.

The Rev. David Sayne, pastor of Wildwood, said Monday, July 11 he’s thankful a fire didn’t occur in the main sanctuary or it could have destroyed the historic, 160-year-old property.

Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich released a statement Monday and called the attacks against the churches “completely unacceptable.”

“The criminal activity that took place over the weekend does not represent the values of inclusion and equity that we are striving for in the communities of this County,” Elrich said. “We pride ourselves on our diversity of religious communities. A hateful incident against one community impacts us all.”

Those with information on the fires and vandalism at the churches are asked to call the Montgomery County Fire and Rescue investigators tip line at 240-777-2263.On reaching others in the faith community and hate crime response resources, Elrich said religious leaders can email the county’s Faith Liaison Kate Chance at interfaith@montgomerycountymd.gov.

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