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Arson Suspected in Fire That Destroyed New York Church's Rainbow Bench

Arson Suspected in Fire That Destroyed New York Church's Rainbow Bench


The pastor of the church says congregants and neighbors are pitching in to restore the bench that symbolized their house of worship's mission to be inclusive.

A church in upstate New York had a newly installed rainbow bench set ablaze on Labor Day, according to the Watertown Daily Times, which reported the bench was added to welcome LGBT parishioners.

Police would not say whether the fire was being investigated as a hate crime, however The Rev. Laurena M. Wickham Will, pastor of the First Presbyterian Church in Ogdensburg, New York, told the Daily Times that the fire was "obvious arson," and said she believed an accelerant was likely used.

"It's shocking. Heartbreaking," Rev. Will said. "I can tell you that someone who is very angry did something very hurtful here," she told the newspaper.

Ogdensburg is a small town with a population of just over 11,000, located on the Canadian border. The handmade bench had stood outside the church for just one week and represented its goal of welcoming all people, regardless of sexual orientation, the pastor told the Daily Times.

"We believe that God's love is for everyone," Will said. "We are a fully inclusive congregation."

The church's newsletter, in fact, proclaims its mission as "inclusive of all."

While hate crimes targeting the greater LGBT community have declined in the last year, those specifically aimed at the trans community have risen, according to the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs.

This alleged hate crime has prompted generous support from the congregation and the local community, Will told the Times, adding that one community member had already volunteered to pay for new materials to rebuild the ruined bench.

"This really is a loving church," Will told the paper.

A police dispatcher in Ogdensburg said the incident is under investigation. But according to the Times, the church does not have security cameras, so police are looking at footage from other cameras in the area, including one outside a nearby Planned Parenthood.

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