James W. Cole presented a check to members of a predominantly black church in South Carolina whose meetinghouse had recently burned. Then the president of the Florence South Carolina Stake waited as every member of the congregation lined up to shake his hand.
Pres. Cole called this sign of appreciation an indication that aid given by the LDS Church, to that congregation and other congregations across the southern United States to help rebuild burned meetinghouses, has done much good.During the past 18 months, numerous predominantly black churches have burned in the South - some as part of a rash of hate crimes, others due to various causes. In July the First Presidency authorized $100,000 to be divided among 28 of the churches determined by local leaders to be in most need of assistance.
Through this effort, relationships with members of other faiths were forged, said Elder F. Burton Howard of the Seventy and president of the North America Southeast Area.
"The thing that impressed me through it all was the fact that these ministers and their congregations were reacting about the same way anyone else would," said Elder Howard. "They love the Lord, they love their church, they care about their pastor, they were devastated when their church burned down."
Elder Howard continued, saying that from his view, this assistance, and Church members' enthusiasm for it, was one of the finest things he has seen occur.
"The good will that was sponsored by it was tremendous," Elder Howard said. "I think our Church will be viewed a lot differently in some of those areas as a result of the help that was given."
W. LeGrand Hutchinson, president of the Bessemer Alabama Stake, said when he presented a check to a minister, that congregation jumped up and applauded. In another church the minister accompanied Pres. Hutchinson outside and seemed to be "genuinely touched by the generosity of the LDS Church," he said.
"He remarked to me, `I don't see how your church can make such a nice gift to us. I have seen where you worship, and what you have is not as good as what we have,' " Pres. Hutchinson related. "You see, our Greensboro Branch is very small and meets in a rented former retail store on the city's main street."
James C. Lansing, president of the Richmond Virginia Stake, presented a check to representatives of The Glorious Church of God in Christ in Richmond and said the gesture benefited his stake. "It has made our members feel good that we have gone in and supported another church in our community, particularly an inner-city church. That's an example of the true spirit of Christianity."
The contribution was made in a ceremony in front of the burned church on a beautiful fall day even as construction workers were rebuilding, according to Pres. Lansing. He said he was invited to attend the rededication of the church. "They were so gracious," he said.
The check was given to the Rev. Modell Dillard, a 70-year-old woman who is one of the church's ministers, and she was emotionally touched by the donation, Pres. Lansing said.