SPRINGFIELD, Mass. (WWLP) – A major announcement was held on Tuesday regarding the efforts to rebuild a historically Black church in Springfield that was damaged in an arson fire federal prosecutors say was a hate crime.

The Martin Luther King, Jr. Presbyterian Church was heavily damaged in a fire set on December 28, 2020. The roof and most of the inside of the church were destroyed, and members of the congregation have been forced to worship elsewhere ever since.

Late Tuesday morning, the church’s pastor, Rev. Dr. Terrlyn Curry Avery joined Mayor Domenic Sarno and Springfield Chief Development Officer Tim Sheehan announced $500,000 was awarded as part of the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) to continue rebuilding efforts of the church.

Federal prosecutors have charged Dushko Vulchev, a Bulgarian national who most recently lived in Houlton, Maine, with setting the fire. He faces four counts of damage to religious property involving fire and one count of use of fire to commit a federal felony. Prosecutors allege Vulchev had set two fires outside the church prior to the December 28 blaze, and that he had demonstrated a history of animosity toward Black people, including making violent racist threats.

Mayor Sarno states, “As my administration did previously with helping to support the Macedonia Church recover and rebuild following the 2008 election night arson and hate crime, I am proud to once again stand in solidarity and support Rev. Dr. Terrlyn Curry Avery and our MLK Community Presbyterian Church after the senseless arson and hate crime.  This major announcement of $500,000 in ARPA funding will help to enhance the efforts to rebuild and restore this historic and significant community church to its glory so that it may continue to serve our community and help heal the hate that some individuals have in their hearts.  I would also like to again ask/challenge our community and philanthropic institutions to join with my administration to step up once again and help this historic property and church through the process of rebuilding.  It won’t be easy but together our Springfield community has proven, ‘that yes we can.”     

CDO Tim Sheehan stated, “The MKL Church is such an important part of the Springfield community and its rebuilding after losing so much to racism and hate is imperative.”

Rev. Dr. Terrlyn Curry Avery said, “The Bible says in all things give thanks. It has been a huge undertaking to rebuild our church home. Though there are still strides to be made to meet our financial goals, we are certainly grateful to God, the Mayor, and his office for this significant contribution. All that is poured into the reconstruction of this church will be returned to the community by offering mental health, educational, financial, and recovery programs to name a few. We are still accepting funds and are grateful for how the community has galvanized and supported us. It will take the community’s voice and continued financial support to rebuild this church and ministry so that we can continue our legacy of building leaders and caring for the needs of the Springfield community.”

To help donate to the church, visit bit.ly/mlkfirefund.

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