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Police investigate suspected arson at Portland church


Police are investigating an alleged arson that damaged a Portland church early Sunday morning.

The fire broke out between 1 a.m. and 2 a.m. on Sunday in front of Portland’s New Church on Stevens Avenue. It appeared to be taking place in the area where a Black Lives Matter sign had been hung, said Lorraine Kardash, church pastor and building manager. She said the sign was later found by investigators in the bushes near the church.

Neighbors who spotted the blaze called for help and rushed into the street with buckets of water to try and put out the blaze, Kardash said.

“They think it was intentionally set on,” Kardash said of what investigators told him about the blaze.

Portland Police spokesperson David Singer confirmed the fire was under investigation but gave no further details.

The damage was largely limited to the front of the building and to a stairwell just inside the door, Kardash said. The church plans to reinstall the Black Lives Matter panel and is working with its insurance company to begin the damage assessment and repair process.

Church leaders shared some details of the blaze on the church’s Facebook page and included a photo of the building’s charred facade.

“The face of beloved Portland New Church was damaged by arson last night. Neighbors acted quickly and extinguished the fire before major structural damage occurred, ”the post said. “Speculation on the pattern is fueled by the fact that the Black Lives Matter sign that hung outside near the door is now gone. This humble church has served as a meeting place for many people at the Deering Center since 1910. We are saddened and angered by this heinous act.

Kardash said the church board met on Sunday to discuss the incident.

“There was a lot of worry, grief, anger and the feeling that we have to react to it and not just ignore it,” she said.

Reverend Anne Gresinger, president of the church board, said she was grateful for the support of the community and neighbors who stepped in to help.

“We’re worried about who is having a problem with the church, but on the other hand, it gives us the opportunity to really feel the embrace of the community,” she said.

The church is planning a picnic for peace on October 10 in the church yard. The interfaith community, police, firefighters and neighbors will be invited to come together as a community and stand up for diversity, Kardash said.

The New Portland Church was officially incorporated on August 21, 1831 by a group that had begun to meet to read and discuss the writings of Emmanuel Swedenborg, a Swedish philosopher and theologian. The church was located on the High Street during its early years. The current church building was completed in April 1910 as a parish hall, according to a church history posted on its website.

This story will be updated