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Vigil set for March 29 after burned cross found at Burnet area church

CONNIE SWINNEY • PICAYUNE STAFF

BURNET — Area pastors have organized a prayer vigil March 29 after an incident involving a charred cross found at the entryway of the Smoking for Jesus Ministry church, a rural Burnet County church with a predominately black congregation.

Burnet County Sheriff’s Office investigators, the FBI and the Texas Department of Public Safety have joined forces to investigate the incident, which was reported about 9 p.m. March 1 at the church property on FM 2342 in Hoover’s Valley.

The Rev. Ricky Leaphart, pastor at First Lutheran Church of Burnet, coordinated the upcoming event that will involve a handful of churches in a demonstration of faith and solidarity.

“We’ll be offering prayers, sharing in prayers and maybe a hymn or two,” Leaphart said. “We are the body of Christ, whether you be First Christian, Lutheran, Smoking for Jesus Ministry, Presbyterian — it doesn’t matter. We’re all that body of Christ, and we’re all called to do that and support each other.”

The public prayer vigil is 3 p.m. March 29 at the Burnet County courthouse square in Burnet.

Other participating churches are the Episocopal Church of the Epiphany, First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), First United Methodist Church of Burnet and Burnet Presbyterian Church.

“We can come together in a united front and say we won’t stand idly by against the hatred and the lack of compassion of others,” said First Christian Pastor B.J. Tapley. “I can’t imagine the fear that went through their minds when this came up, particularly in our more holistic approach in this country (with) the racial tensions we’re seeing a resurgence of.

“Maybe this can open the eyes of the community to let us know it’s still out there. It hasn’t gone away,” Tapley added.

Since the incident, the congregation has drawn strength from past experiences, according to Pastor Willie Monnet of Smoking for Jesus Ministry (We’re on Fire for the Lord).

“Keep in mind, we came from New Orleans. We escaped (hurricanes) Katrina and Rita and made it to Texas, so they’re kind of used to some tragedies and hardships, but they’re doing well,” he said of the about 70 families who relocated to the area 10  years ago. “They realize that the Lord controls everything, and we’re praying for that individual because he’s out of time, out of date, out of touch. Something is wrong with his heart.

“We draw from the word of God. We should go through tests and trial, but we’ll come out victorious,” Monnet added. “We draw from the same strength that has kept us even through the storms when we had no where to go and he made a way.”

Law enforcement is continuing the investigation for a possible suspect.

“It’s still under investigation,” Burnet County Sheriff’s Office Capt. Dwight Hardin said. “We’re working closely with the FBI and the Texas Department of Public Safety to gather evidence and analyze the evidence that we do have.”

In the meantime, the pastors hope the prayer vigil will inspire solace and support.

“We felt that, as brothers and sisters in Christ, we couldn’t just stand by and let something like this happen,” Leaphart said. “We wanted to let the community know, we wanted to let that ministry know that we’re behind them.”

Monnet said the congregation takes comfort in the support through the years from the community.

“The public has been great to us. We’ve almost been here 10 years now. They can keep praying first of all and also keep a watch for us,” Monnet said. “If they know anything or anybody who would do such a thing, they can report it to the authorities.”

Anybody with information on the incident is asked to the call the Burnet County Sheriff’s Office at (512) 756-8080 or the Hill Country Area Crime Stoppers at (512) 756-TIPS (8477).

connie@thepicayune.com