By Dan Roem
Times-Democrat Staff Writer
There is no looming deadline around the corner the Mount Pleasant Baptist Church congregation in Gainesville to raise the estimated $1 million it will take to restore and improve their burnt-out church property stemming from an August inferno.
However, the church is still a long ways off from securing the remaining $750,000 it will take to move back in to their 136-year-old structure.
Now, the church trustees and pastor are reaching out beyond their own parish for help as the 135 church members themselves simply can't afford to foot the bill through tithing and other weekly donations.
"We're going to be dependent on the community to help us rebuild," said church trustee, vice-chairwoman and treasurer Janet Robinson.
On March 16, she sat down at a table with the Rev. George Carlisle
Police arrested Maurice Thompson Michaely of Haymarket on Nov. 29 and charged him with arson, injuring church property and unlawful entry stemming from the Aug. 10 fire.
During a preliminary hearing earlier this month, a grand jury determined that prosecutors presented enough evidence hold a jury trial, set to take place June 4-5.
Before the trial, the church is planning multiple fundraisers.
One is being held by the Five Below retail store in Gainesville from March 29 through April 1, where 10 percent of purchases from church members and shoppers bringing an invitation will go to the building fund.
Another one is a yard sale set for April 6 at the Northern Virginia Baptist Center's Ross-Penn Memorial Building in Gainesville, which is also the open to the public, where dinners and various items are to be put up for sale.
Billed the "Fish, Chicken, Ribs, Pig's Feet Dinners," the event is being sponsored by the Trustee Ministry for the church's building fund.
After that, a door-to-door campaign through Hopewell's Landing and Lake Manassas are being planned for the late spring or early summer to ask residents for donations.
The church officials explained that they're requesting outside help because money raised through donations at weekly services mostly goes to paying reoccurring expenses, including a $2,500 monthly rent for the Memorial Building, where Sunday services are now being held.
At the Mount Pleasant site along U.S. 29, the trustees also still pay for electricity in order to light the property and they pay for pest control too.
So far, the church is coming out "just a little bit ahead" at the end of each month after paying its bills, said Carlisle.
Members had to vacate the official church property entirely for months, including the cemetery in the backyard.
That meant no one could celebrate holidays or the birthdays of the deceased at their grave sites. No private memorials could be held either.
Luck ran on the church's side during that time though, as Carlisle reported during his Sunday sermon that he had not presided at a funeral during the last year.
Anyone wishing the access the cemetery now makes appointments ahead of time as the site is considered a construction zone.
Upcoming expenses include a new roof, floors and electrical system for the church, as well as the addition of a second floor for a children's ministry.
As for the present state of the church itself...
"It's empty," said Carlisle.
Despite the loss, Peterson explained that the congregation itself is still "an active part of the community," having delivered 75 bookbags of school supplies to needy families the week after the church burned.
That came with some help from donations from Five Below after the fire destroyed 100 pre-packed bookbags, according to the three church officials.
With money tight, church members themselves volunteered time to spruce up the temporary site at the 47-year-old NVBC building.
Once Mount Pleasant lost its church structure, the facility the congregation moved into didn't have much in the way of basic insulation; cinderblocks served as walls.
The church's men's ministry then pitched in to install drywall.
White plaster brush strokes could be seen on the four walls this past Sunday, as a wet-dry vacuum and a shovel sat among other items in back of the church hall, next to a trash can and a blue carpet stained from apparent water runoff.
Meanwhile, Carlisle offered an animated sermon centered on Christian gospel stories about the lead-up to the crucifixion of Jesus.
Audio through the four speakers clipped repeatedly when the preacher bellowed into the microphones.
"Sometimes when you're lost, God will send you an angel," Carlisle told the congregation gathered in the two rows that stretch from the entrance to the altar.
Occasionally, the minister's message could easily relate back to the church's quest to rebuild.
"First of all, it's not hard to say, 'I need some help,'" said Carlisle.
He then leaned into a wireless mic and exclaimed "God help me!" in an echoing, booming voice that brought a round of agreeing replies from those dressed in their Sunday best sitting before him.
At one point, the crowd chuckled as he lectured about enduring tough times.
"Ask yo' momma if she endured you!" he said to applause. "The question is, do you have the patience to endure everyone else?"
Mount Pleasant Baptist Church is accepting donations for its building fund through checks sent to P.O. Box 236, Gainesville 20155.
More information about the church can be found online at