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Hopewell church fire ruled arson; blaze started in sanctuary, pastor says

HOPEWELL, Va. -- A "catastrophic" fire that heavily damaged a church in Hopewell Friday night has been ruled arson, according to Hopewell Church of the Nazarene officials.

"While we have learned that the fire was arson, we as a church hold no ill will toward anyone and offer forgiveness to those involved," church officials posted on Facebook Sunday evening. "We are grateful no one was injured and have open arms to families in our community."

Firefighters were called to the church off Smithfield Avenue around 10:40 p.m.

When crews arrived, they found heavy flames and smoke shooting up from the church.

Neighbor Allan Golden was stunned when he realized the church was on fire Friday night.

"I told my wife it's getting foggy out here and then I was like 'God, what is that smell? It smells like plastic burning.'"

No injuries were reported and officials said no one was inside the church when the fire started.

Church officials said in a Facebook post the structure is likely a total loss.

"It is with a heavy heart that we report our beloved church suffered a catastrophic fire late last night," the post reads. "Thankfully the professional first responders from Hopewell Fire & Rescue and Hopewell Police Department contained the fire quickly, and prevented a spread to our neighbors..."

David Woods, senior pastor at the church, said fire investigators told him the fire started in the sanctuary.

Woods said he and his congregation are shocked someone set fire to their church.

"It's still a matter of I cannot believe it," Woods said. "This is not a church. It's a church building. Our church is a population of people that are called together to make a difference in the world."

Services were held at different locations, including the Colonial Heights Church of the Nazarene, on Sunday.

"Our place of gathering is gone," Woods said. "So we’re concentrating on moving ahead, because as a church we are a community, not isolated to the Church of the Nazarene or even the church in Hopewell, but we are a worldwide body of Christ that strives to make a difference."

The church is accepting donations. Click here for more information.

Stay with WTVR.com and watch CBS 6 News for continuing coverage of this developing story. Anyone with more information can submit a news tip here.

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