Bobby Ardoin Special to the Daily World
Published 6:20 PM EDT Apr 7, 2019
If there was any animosity or distress over the loss of their building, worshipers from Mount Pleasant Baptist Church weren’t displaying those emotions Sunday morning.
Maybe that’s because they didn’t have much time to reflect about adversity.
The Rev. Gerald Toussaint conducted an inspirational service that resonated throughout tiny Morning Star Baptist Church with a fiery sermon that referenced Moses leading the Israelites out of Egypt.
Along with his sermon came several rousing gospel songs, which seemingly lifted many in the congregation off their feet as they stood in the pews with raised hands, singing and praising.
It was the first time that the congregations from Toussaint’s two churches — Mount Pleasant and Morning Star — had joined together on a Sunday, an occasion created more by necessity than planned invitation.
The late-morning service attracted both area and national news media representatives. Several television cameras — one of them for a national network — recorded the event, while three photographers took pictures.
Mount Pleasant, located south of Opelousas, is one of three rural historic Baptist churches with predominantly black congregations to burn down in St. Landry Parish since March 26.
MORE: State Fire Marshal investigating causes, possible links between two St. Landry Baptist church fires
Toussaint, the pastor at both Morning Star and Mount Pleasant, said the congregations will unite for services until the Mount Pleasant location on state Highway 182 is rebuilt.
The Mount Pleasant congregants, however, weren’t the only ones displaced on Sunday.
Members of St. Mary’s Baptist Church met at a storefront location in north Opelousas. Those from Greater Union Baptist Church, located on state Highway 742, attended services in a building on Lincoln Street in Opelousas, after their church was gutted by a blaze on April 1.
Three representatives from the State Fire Marshal’s Office attended the Morning Star service along with Adren O. Wilson, deputy chief of staff for the Louisiana governor’s office of programming and planning.
Butch Browning, a state fire marshal investigator, spoke to the Mount Pleasant congregation following the Sunday service. Browning pledged to find whoever is responsible for the three church burnings.
MORE: ‘I feel there is definitely a pattern:’ Local pastors respond to church fires
Browning said the Mount Pleasant fire and those at the other two churches are being treated now as criminal activity and investigators, including those at the federal level, are investing as many as 200 people who are examining the details of the case.
“We feel they (the fires) are connected, but we need to for someone to tell us how they are connected,” said Browning. ”We feel as though we might soon have some answers.”
Both Toussaint and Browning urged those from Mount Pleasant to let investigators “do their jobs.”
Toussaint said investigators have indicated that they want anyone with possible information about the fires notify him and the other pastors first.
“You tell me and I’m calling them,” Toussaint said. ”Keep your eyes open. We don’t know who did this or what color they are. I’m asking you to let this work itself out. We’re still intact. Mount Pleasant is still alive. Got to keep going, keep on rolling.”
Vergie Thomas Espree said she has been attending Mount Pleasant for all of her 70 years and has granddaughters that attend services there.
Initially, Espree said, she took the Mount Pleasant fire hard.
“I teared up. There was a lot of hurt. That has been my church all my life,” she said.” I was a lost soul and going there has kept me straight. It was like, ‘Why did someone want to burn my church?’
“The church has been part of me and I am what I became because of the church. I really didn’t know what to do. But I know now the answer is in God’s hands.
“It’s also a blessing to be here (at Morning Star). It’s a big family — the two churches — and we get along,” Espree said.
Toussaint reminded those at Mount Pleasant to avoid being overwhelmed by their emotions.
“If it causes you anxiety, don’t keep it in. Talk to somebody. Keep praying and stay strong. Be strong; be courageous,” he said before dismissing those from Mount Pleasant.
Mount Pleasant church member Ernest Hines told investigators and Toussaint that individuals on social media and those instituting Go Fund Me Accounts on behalf of the church are not authorized to do so.
“I contacted one of the persons who put up a site and I told that person to take that down,” he said. “It’s not that we don’t want anything, but now is not the time. We have our own money and what money we need will come through the offices of the church.”
During the service, Toussaint openly addressed the church fire issue several times.
“You know, I have a feeling that this didn’t destroy a church. It just destroyed a building,” said Toussaint’s whose statement was echoed by a chorus of “Amen.”
As he preached, during the middle of the service, Toussaint told the worshipers alluded to the biblical story of a poor shepherd robbed of his best lamb.
“No matter what happens, no one can pluck my sheep from my hands,” he said. “I don’t know what the enemy has in store, but those fiery darts that Satan sends your way — we are concerned, but that doesn’t mean we are going to give up on God.
“Whatever happens under darkness will eventually be brought to light.”
The biblical story of Moses and his tribe escaping from Egypt, Toussaint said, should remind the congregation that Israel called on God and God kept them going.
“They went through the storm, and I assure you another is coming. We should rejoice in our trials and we can’t be one to let our guard down,” Toussaint said.
His sermon was supported by a stimulating spiritual in which many of the congregants stood up and loudly repeated the refrain, “I’ve got a feeling everything’s gonna be all right.”
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