Arrest made in vandalism of 160-year-old Mississippi church sanctuary

Published 7:30 am Saturday, February 4, 2023

A Mississippi congregation is praying for the man arrested for vandalizing its historic church. Known by many fans of architecture and historic places of worship as the church with the “Hand pointing to Heaven” atop its steeple, the people of First Presbyterian Church of Port Gibson have some cleaning up and repairs to do before services can be held again.

Claiborne County Sheriff Edward Goods said that he was contacted by a key holder of the church on Tuesday. Upon arrival, he saw the damage that had been done to the church.  Within hours of investigating, a suspect, Arthur Washington Jr., was interviewed and arrested. Washington is charged with destroying public property, a church building or certain cemetery items.

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The pastor of the church, the Rev. Michael Herrin, said the damage was extensive and will take some time to repair.

“The main damage was one window with two sashes of stained glass, and so we’re going to have to get bids on getting that repaired,” Herrin said. “The console for our pipe organ was opened up and some damage was done inside the console. Then that will take, we think, about six weeks to repair.”

The stained glass window that was damaged is estimated to be more than 100 years old.

“All the pews were turned over. All the furniture, everything was turned over,” Herrin said. “The thermostats were knocked off the walls, so we’re having to get those replaced before we can worship in the room.”

Herrin also asked for prayers for both the church’s congregation and for Washington. Washington was denied bail at his initial appearance in court on Thursday.

“Please pray for Arthur Washington Jr., the man who has confessed to the crime,” a Facebook post reads as an update to the congregation. “He admits that his actions sprang from anger with God, so let us pray that his heart will be open to the gospel, and that he will surrender his life to the Lord.”

The congregation dates back to 1807 when it was founded as Bayou Pierre Presbyterian Church. The current building was dedicated for worship on December 16, 1860, according to the church website.