Church damaged in 2016 arson reopens 7 months later

FRAYSER, TN (WMC) - A Frayser congregation was back in their church Sunday morning, a little more than seven months after it was intentionally set on fire.

New Salem Fellowship Ministries Pastor Antonio Mattox was back behind the pulpit at his church Sunday morning off Hawkins Mill Road.

The sanctuary is clean, rebuilt, and new after tragedy months ago.

"Even though we were displaced, we never stopped, we never swerved and swayed from doing ministry," said Mattox.

Initial estimates showed damage from the fire to be around $30,000, but Mattox said it ended up costing more than $100,000, as the interior of the church had to be gutted.

The suspected arsonist still has not been caught.

Surveillance video released in the days after the suspected arson in late September 2016 captured a woman walking around the church, but Mattox said he hasn't heard of new leads.

"I talked with the ATF agent four months ago," Mattox said. "They still haven't had any word on who the culprit was. We place them in the hands of God. I pray they come to their senses."

The congregation had to relocate and worship in South Memphis after the fire.

Mattox said that's affected membership, since many worshipers walked to church.

"It's great and it looks wonderful in here," said Annetta Payne, admiring the rebuilt sanctuary.

Churchgoers building back from the fire tested their faith, but they never doubted and are stronger because of it.

"It broke my heart, but now it's mended back together," said Darlene Fulton. "We knew God was going to take care of us anyway."

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