Small bombs exploded within minutes of each other Aug. 2 at two Las Cruces, N.M., churches – including a Southern Baptist congregation – cancelling Sunday morning services and necessitating evacuations at other churches across the city.
No one was hurt in the explosions that caused minimal damage at Calvary Baptist Church, 1800 S. Locust St., and Holy Cross Catholic Church, 1327 N. Miranda St., the Associated Press (AP) reported. No arrests had been made as of today, Aug. 3, but New Mexico state police described the bombs as improvised explosive devices, IEDs, designed to cause harm.
About 50 worshippers had already gathered for the 8:30 a.m. traditional service at Calvary Baptist Church when the bomb exploded at 8:20 a.m. in a mailbox attached to the building, Scott Rodgers, pastor of core groups, told Baptist Press.
Worshippers remained calm as police arrived and evacuated Calvary Baptist, ushering individuals to the church’s south parking lot, Rodgers said. He preached the Sunday morning service in the parking lot, as youth arts pastor Gregg Higgins led music. But the 9:45 a.m. and 11 a.m. services were cancelled, as police blocked adjacent streets while investigating the crime.
Church members are doing well, Rodgers said, and a licensed professional counselor within the congregation has made himself available if needed.
“Each church member that I’ve spoken to [has] given praise to God for how He protected us,” Rodgers said, “and recognizing what little we do know about the device, we’re very grateful that God has protected us and not a single person was hurt, not in the slightest.”
Mass had already convened at Holy Cross Catholic Church when a bomb exploded in a plastic trash can outside a church window around 8:40 a.m., A.P. reported, as 200 were preparing for communion. The bomb damaged a glass entryway, and parishioners exited a separate door.
Several churches in Las Cruces ended or cancelled Sunday services after the explosions, Albuquerque Journal News reported.
Newly hired Calvary Baptist pastor Kevin Glenn, former pastor of Memorial Baptist Church in Columbia, Mo., was spending his first Sunday in Las Cruces in preparation for his new pastorate.
“Fortunately, I’ve been able to deal with other security issues at churches in the past,” Glenn said. “You never like to have experiences like that, but that’s allowed me to really know what the next steps are going to be for us at Calvary, to make some adjustments and increase some awareness on ways that we can make the campus more secure and help folks to understand we can worship faithfully and freely but also have our eyes open and be vigilant.”
The crimes are already uniting the community in prayer, as dozens attended an interfaith prayer vigil Aug. 2 at Pioneer Park. Glenn and Monsignor John Anderson of the Catholic congregation have discussed tentative thoughts for an ecumenical ministry outreach in response to the bombings.
“It has really pulled the faith community of Las Cruces together,” Glenn said, “and there are a lot of people praying at this time for safety and for the folks that did it to be brought to justice, but also that whatever it was that motivated such hate would be overcome with peace.”
Multiple state and federal agencies are involved in the investigation, including New Mexico State Police, the FBI, Homeland Security Investigations and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
New Mexico Gov. Susanna Martinez has said those guilty of bombing the churches “will feel the full pressure of the law.”
God’s presence was evident as the Sunday service approached, Rodgers said.
“I had studied for a sermon for three days and got up on Saturday morning and sensed that the Lord was saying that that’s not what I needed to preach on Sunday,” Rodgers said. “And so He took me to the story of David and Goliath and led me to see how important it is that whenever we’re faced with a difficult circumstance, that we not look at the size of our situation, but we look at the size of our God.”
Rodgers estimated combined Sunday morning attendance at Calvary Baptist is normally about 400.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Diana Chandler is Baptist Press’ general assignment writer/editor.)