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The Boston Globe

Metro

Church arson leaves Cape Cod uneasy

BREWSTER — They stared in disbelief at the charred remnants of the place where they had worshiped. They wept at the sight of blackened rubble strewn over lawns up to 100 yards away. The parishioners of the Cape Cod Bible Alliance Church in Brewster struggled to understand why someone set the blaze early Friday that destroyed the 25-year-old building on Main Street.

Authorities believe they know how it happened. They arrested Adam Finnegan, 29, of Brewster, on a charge of setting the fast-spreading three-alarm blaze that broke out around 3 a.m. Friday, according to State Fire Marshal Stephen D. Coan.

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The fire was the third to hit Cape Cod this week, including one still under investigation that destroyed a garden center garage in Falmouth on Wednesday, and another, also deemed arson, that ripped through an abandoned Harwich motel Sunday. The church fire is not connected to a spate of arsons in communities south of Boston over the past couple of months, Coan said. But it added to a sense of unease spreading across the Cape.

“Whenever there is a fire in a house of worship, it has a tremendous impact on the fabric of a community,” Coan said in a statement.

On Friday, shocked leaders and members of the Brewster church grappled with the loss and sought solace in their faith, and in one another.

Jennifer Holmes stood in the parking lot Friday afternoon, disbelief on her face, looking at the burnt ruins of the building where she had worshiped for the past four years. She had been there the night before, rehearsing with the choir for a Christmas performance.

“It’s sad, just sad,” said Holmes, alongside her mother, Fran Ruddock. “I’m just going to put my faith in God, and he’s going to see us through.”

“It doesn’t define who we are, not at all,” said Ruddock, tears slowly trailing down her cheeks. “It’s the building, it’s not the church. The people are the church.”

Leslie Botsford, administrative assistant for the church, which is a member of the evangelical Protestant denomination Christian and Missionary Alliance, stood in the parking lot Friday afternoon and pointed above a broken slab of cement wall holding a large pile of splintered wood and debris.

“That was my office,” Botsford said. “I can’t imagine we have any enemies or anything. At this point you can’t even get your mind around anything.”

Brewster Deputy Fire Chief William Harrison said he was concerned by the trio of local fires.

“For Cape Cod, that’s a lot of fires,” he said.

Harrison said that when firefighters arrived at the church minutes after the call early Friday morning, flames were already shooting through the roof.

Firefighters from seven surrounding communities responded. Harrison said their approach to battling the blaze was “mostly surround and drown,” referring to dousing it from outside because it was too dangerous to send anyone inside. The building was leveled.

Fighting the flames took a tremendous amount of water, sending a stream of mud, dirt, and jagged building debris down the hill where the church sits and onto Route 6A, which was closed until 7:30 a.m., when state highway workers opened up the westbound lane, said Dean Mossey, a highway foreman at the scene. The eastbound lane opened at 2 p.m.

The administrative board and church elders met Friday to pray and discuss next their steps, including calling the insurance company and relocating a funeral scheduled to be held at the church on Saturday, Botsford said.

Out of the meeting also came the consensus that the church will be rebuilt, she said.

Church leaders received calls from a number of churches, residents, and suppliers offering assistance. Sunday services will be held at Stony Brook Elementary School, after Nauset Schools Superintendent Richard J. Hoffmann offered it as a temporary meeting place.

On an average Sunday, the 175-member church sees more than 200 worshipers.

“The outpouring has been amazing. I feel incredibly loved and just so thankful [to] live here in this place of support,” said Botsford, who has been attending the church since its inception in the late 1970s. “We’ve lost a building, [but] the memories we’ll still have.”

The Rev. Derek Mansker, the youth pastor at the church, was at the scene Friday, surveying the rubble and consoling distraught parishioners.

“You mourn, it’s sad, but [faith] is not far behind,” Mansker said. “Immediately you [ask], ‘Well, God what do you want to do with this?’ You rebuild out of the rubble. It’ll be good in some way.”

Mansker said it is especially emotional to lose the church weeks before Christmas, “but the hope of Christmas is the same hope we have when we look at this — the hope of a savior who comes and saves us. So that’s what we look for, and that’s what we’re holding on to.”

Globe correspondent Melissa M. Werthmann contributed to this report. Katheleen Conti can be reached at kconti@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @GlobeKConti.
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