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Vigil held for Huntington church that had altar burned

Church members hold a vigil Tuesday at St. John's Episcopal Church in Huntington, where police say a 12-year-old girl burned an altar. (WCHS/WVAH)

The men and women of St. John’s Episcopal Church gathered Tuesday to say goodbye to an altar they have prayed at for years.

Police said it was burned nearly to ashes by a 12- year-old girl.

"How could someone do this to a church?” asked congregation member Anne Graybeal. “A church is supposed to be for peace and for the community, not for destruction."

Anger ran through many, but the service pressed the congregation to find forgiveness.

The girl, the Rev. Lisa Graves said, is a child of God, like everyone sitting in her pews.

"I am glad that she found our church in what was obviously a very desperate time for her,” Graves said. “I'm glad she was not alone and unsheltered."

Graybeal said church members will not turn the girl away.

“We will pray for her," she said.

Instead of lashing out, worshipers renewed their vows to God, and then Bishop Michie Klusmeyer re-consecrated the ground defiled by flames.

"It is not a table to us. It is a holy table. It is where we go to be fed," Graves said.

Graves said this is the last service this altar will see.

In the coming days, they will repair the fire damage, clean the soot off every surface, and then get a new altar carved to match the old one.

"In the face of adversity, people can rise up and turn justice into mercy and compassion, and turn anger into hope," Graves said.

Police have not released the name of the girl they believe set the fire.

Graves said she did not belong to her congregation.

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