St. Louis church struck by arson finds a new home - in a house
The yellow house at 8820 North Broadway in St. Louis looks like most of the others on the block, but the worship music wafting out onto the sidewalk signals this is the new home of United Believers in Christ Ministries.
UBIC, formerly known as New Life Missionary Baptist Church, celebrated its first service in its new building on Sunday, after losing its Walnut Park church to arson in October. It was among a group of seven predominantly black churches in north St. Louis and north St. Louis County that were damaged by arson.
Since then, Pastor David Triggs said his displaced congregation has moved from place to place as other churches offered up temporary spaces.
"We've been out wandering for several weeks and my members are excited, because some of the older ones who need consistency, they weren't able to get out and fellowship with us the way that we were moving around," he said. "So to just have everyone gathered under one roof, it's like a family reunion happening right now."
Triggs said the house, owned by his father- and mother-in-law, has since been converted into a worship space, its kitchen and cabinets removed and bedroom walls knocked down to make space for chairs and a sound system.
To make it feel "more holy, more church-y," Triggs and other members put decals on the windows to create the appearance of stained glass.
"I'm so proud of our little windows," Triggs said, laughing.
Other church members were equally excited about the new space. Longtime member Danika Williams said her fellow churchgoers have had a rough road since October, but she has learned to never lose faith.
"Never doubt God, because just when we think that we’re at our lowest, he comes through," she said. "I used to have a problem with doubt, so this has definitely been an experience."
Choir member Sean Robinson said church members have forgiven the man police arrested in connection with the arson, 35-year-old St. Louisan David Lopez Jackson. Robinson said it felt "awesome just to be back."
"It’s just a great feeling that God has blessed us with another building with our other building being burned down, but this place we’re going to make it sacred," he said. "It’s exciting because we’re in another part of the city where we can bring the spirit here."
UBIC's new building is in the city's Baden neighborhood, about three miles from its former location. But Triggs said that's given his ministry a chance to expand its message of unity and diversity.
"The beauty of where we're sitting is we're still close enough to reach out to the Walnut Park area, but then there's also a lot of work to do here in Baden," he said. "So we're looking forward to reach out to know this community and for them to get to know us."
Triggs' wife, Charronda, agreed: "We're in an excellent spot to do ministry. There are so many people who are broken, whose spirits are wounded, and I think we're in the right place at the right time."
The church will soon re-launch its clothing and food pantries for the community and "minister to the needs of the people," Charronda Triggs said.
"We won't stop, we've refused to stop," she said. "That's what United Believers in Christ is: it's an outreach ministry and it meets the needs of the community."
Still, David Triggs said he believes this new building is yet another stop of the journey; he's hoping to find a more permanent location in a building that is already set up as a church. He said that will help manage the growing interest in his church, whose membership he expects to double in the coming months.
"We have expanded so far beyond these walls since that fire," he said. "We've been able to reach our communities in a great way, and the message has really been resonating with the public that this church is not going to show prejudice against you because you're a different color or different denomination."
In the meantime, Triggs said he is grateful for the support he has received from throughout the St. Louis community. He also said he may start holding two Sunday services in the small yellow house on N. Broadway that he says, for now, "definitely feels like home."
Follow Stephanie Lecci on Twitter: @stephlecci.