WAYNESBORO, Ga. (WJBF) – Look past the ashes left from a fire at a nearly 130-year-old church and you will learn about a place built for Blacks to live a better life.
That’s how Kelsey Marleau Phinazee remembers his late mother telling him the story.
“It was very heartbreaking and devastating at the same time,” he said.
Hearing the news that someone set fire to the historic Haven United Methodist Church on Barron Street near downtown Waynesboro, brought back childhood memories for Phinazee, who is still a member of the church, now named Haven-Munnerlyn United Methodist Church. It’s Pastor is Rev. Perry Medley.
“I had the certificate and everything showing I was Christened here and baptized here. I was about 4 years old,” he said of the church that is now a total loss.
Haven United Methodist Church, which did not hold Sunday services, caught fire Saturday morning. Church members say the structure and everything inside was destroyed including pews, an organ and membership documents. Police arrested 68-year-old Palmer Crumbley and charged him with Arson in the incident.
NewsChannel 6 learned the historical site dates back to 1888 when the Freedman’s Bureau brought resources to former slaves.
“After slavery people didn’t have no way of learning,” Phinazee recalled. “They came down here to establish for people to learn and read and write and to encourage them to press on because they needed help then.”
He added that the Freedman’s Bureau also helped to reconnect families separated during slavery.
Another member, Dorothy Latimore, shared her knowledge of the establishment of the UMC.
“It was a center for taking care of people right after the Civil War. And they built the school Haven Academy and the church on the property across the way.”
Latimore and her family went to the church as children so they spent time there viewing the charred remains and reflecting on the past. Latimore attends the church still and serves as its historian.
“There was a member of the church who was elected as a representative to the Georgia General Assembly, a Mr. Clairborne. He served for a short time in the state legislature,” Latimore said.
Several members came by to see the devastation. No word yet on what will be done with the land, but Pastor Medley said the land will be cleared. He added that the cornerstone, which was not damaged, will be placed within the new church next door.
Photojournalist: Mark Gaskins