Tampa, Florida — An arson investigation is underway at a historic church in Tampa after flames tore through the building around 6:30 a.m. on Monday causing $400,000 worth of damage. This isn’t the first time the pastor of the church has dealt with a suspicious fire.
Several people hugged and stood outside New Salem Missionary Baptist Church as firefighters rushed to put water on the fire. For many it was a heartbreaking sight.
Tampa City Councilman Frank Reddick grew up in the neighborhood and broke down when speaking about it. He says, “Difficult. Very difficult that we lost this.”
An arson investigation is underway at a historical church in Tampa after flames tore through the building Monday.
The black smoke billowing out of the church right before the roof collapsed was just too much for many to process. Sonja Bexley has family members who attend the church. She says, “Just to see the whole church destroyed, my gosh, I hope no one was in there.”
Tampa Fire Rescue believes the church was vacant when the fire started just 30 minutes before the daycare was about to open. The Rev. Henry Lyons says, “One man was in at a point – he picks up the children early – and that kind of thing, but he’s OK.”
Reddick adds, “Growing up this was one of the most prominent churches – black churches in the city of Tampa – they have a tremendous amount of history inside that church – that is probably lost.”
This isn’t the first time that Lyons, the church’s pastor, has dealt with a suspicious fire either. In July of 1997, while he was the leader of the National Baptist Convention and pastor at Bethel Metropolitan Baptist Church in St. Petersburg his wife at the time set fire to a $700,000 home that he was sharing with another woman.
It sparked an investigation into his finances and Lyons was convicted of stealing money from the convention’s corporate partners and from an organization that rebuilt black churches that had been burned down.
Lyons spent 5 years in prison before taking over New Salem Missionary Baptist Church.
Lyons told 10 News though that the church’s recent bankruptcy issue to stop a foreclosure was in the past. He also said the church was in the process of selling the church when it caught fire. He says, “The building is 64 years old. It’s time to rebuild.”
Learning more about the controversial pastor of the New Salem Missionary Baptist Church
Lyons says since there was a daycare at the church his wife is trying to help parents find places for for their children. He says, “Basically my wife handles that. We have a thriving little daycare. I’m really proud of it. She’s already dealt with that she’s got a place for them. We’ve got to be careful about licenses and make sure we’re within restrictions and within the guidelines.”