Alfred Street Baptist Church didn’t cancel its first Sunday service – or the next one, or its last one – after receiving a bomb threat during its worship service on Saturday evening.
Alfred Street Pastor Howard-John Wesley, who has led the historic Old Town church for a decade, said the message the church sent by continuing on with its three Sunday services is clear.
“We need to let whoever this was know that, ‘No, you didn’t win and you’re not going to.’ No matter how much you threaten, we will still worship. If this building is destroyed, we will be somewhere else and doing what we are called to do,” Wesley said.
Wesley said the church was nearing the end of its 6 p.m. Saturday service shortly after 7 p.m. when a staff member informed him that the Alexandria Police Department
had blocked off the area and recommended that members of the congregation remain seated. He was later informed that police were searching for unmanned packages outside of the church.
“[A staff member] came back in and said, ‘Police are asking you to shut your phones off’ and that’s when people knew it had to be bomb-related,” Wesley said. “We kept things very calm and sang songs and worship just continued. There was no panic, no chaos.”
Alexandria Police Department Spokeswoman Crystal Nosal said police received the bomb threat via phone call and responded to the scene at 7 p.m. The police didn’t find a bomb or anything suspicious at the scene, and cleared it at about 9 p.m. Nosal said police were still investigating the incident and no arrests have been made at this point.
Wesley said the crowd of between 700 to 800 people left the church through an exit designated by police without incident. He said Alexandria Police swept the building with dogs trained to detect explosives and returned with the dogs after
each Sunday service.
“I can’t say enough about the Alexandria City Police and the ways in which they responded quickly, efficiently, gave us information on the spot, helped exit our members and get them out safely,” Wesley said.
Though the scene was cleared and the incident went as well as could be expected, the threat at Alfred Street Baptist comes at a time when incidents of violence against religious institutions are growing in number and escalating.
It comes less than two weeks after the fatal shootings at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and three years after another deadly shooting rampage at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in June 2015 in Charleston, South Carolina. Both Tree of Life and Emanuel AME are, like Alfred Street, historic institutions with an expansive membership.
Alfred Street dates back to 1803, when members from another regional African American Baptist church separated to establish their own church in the city. The church was formally established in 1806 and the church has been at its current site since 1818, according to the church website.
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Source: Alexandria Times