(KLFY) – Just this week, Greater Union Baptist broke ground on a new church, hoping this is one step closer towards rebuilding and recovering.
Where tractors are parked and dirt is spread, a church once stood on the side of Highway 742 in Opelousas.
In April 2019, Holden Matthews admitted he set fire to three historical African American churches, one being Greater Union Baptist.
More than a year later, parishioner Sheryl Richard says it’s not much, but it’s a step forward.
“It’s a process. We had to find the right people to take care of what we needed. The rewarding thing is knowing we can rebuild, and we are,” Richard continues.
Richard talks about support from within the community and also around the world that allowed funds to be raised so a new house of worship can be built in its original location.
“We will never be able to repay what was given. We had insurance but it would not have enough to do what we are doing right now,” explains Richard.
Reflecting on the past year, Richard recalls hurdles the congregation faced together after the church burning, from their pastor passing away to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
Richard says, “We are stronger together. We were separated from the original location, but it was necessary to stand together in order to move forward together.”
As a new year approaches, Richard hopes in 2021 she is congregating with other parishioners inside Greater Union on the side of Highway 742.
“Right here. It started 130 years ago. This is where it all began. This is where we will come back. This is where we will worship,” Richard says.
Holden Matthews is scheduled to be sentenced on October 30th.
In February, Matthews pleaded guilty to three counts of intentional damage to religious property and one count of using fire to commit a felony.
He also pleaded guilty to three state hate crime charges, two simple arson of a religious building charges and an aggravated arson of a religious building charge in a state court.