ATF, Georgia fire marshals to investigate south Macon church blaze

lfabian@macon.comJanuary 28, 2013 

Investigators from the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and the state fire marshal’s office will help determine what caused a fire that gutted a south Macon church early Monday morning.

Flames tore through the roof of the Reaching Souls Cathedral of Praise Apostolic Church sanctuary building.

Macon-Bibb County firefighters were dispatched about 12:30 a.m. to 5555 Bethesda Ave., which is off Rocky Creek Road, not far from the Bloomfield Road curve.

Shortly after 1:30 p.m., federal investigators arrived on scene, but representatives of the Insurance and Safety Fire Commissioners office were still on the way, said Macon-Bibb fire investigator Sgt. Ben Gleaton.

A large, unoccupied new church building that anchors the corner of Rocky Creek Road was not damaged, but the current sanctuary was gutted and its side brick wall has cracked and is in danger of collapse, Gleaton said.

The flames spread to an adjacent social hall that is connected by a common hallway, Gleaton said.

A church bus parked between the buildings was also charred along the roof.

Emergency operators say no one was hurt in the blaze, but firefighters were remaining on the scene until state inspectors could arrive.

The property once housed the former Bethesda Baptist Church, whose nearly 50-year-old congregation dissolved in 2005.

The brick building that was destroyed Monday housed the former congregation’s chapel, but the building was still being used for the current congregation’s services, firefighters said.

In May 2005, the former main sanctuary building’s roof collapsed and the frame for a new building went up next to the road.

Three years later, in March 2008, Pastor Onslow D. Ross was convicted of 54 counts of various financial crimes involving the misuse of a $389,000 insurance check.

In the U.S. District Court in Macon in June 2008, Ross was sentenced to 130 months in prison for forging a CB&T Bank signature, depositing the check into a new Security Bank account and writing cashier’s checks to businesses and members of Ross’ family.

James Durham, one of Ross’ church members in 2008, spoke to The Telegraph after the pastor’s conviction.

Durham said trips, luxury cars, clothing and other things Ross used church money to pay for were legitimate expenses in Ross’ attempt to build a church empire.

At the time, 38 congregations composed Reaching Souls International, an organization of churches Ross guided as a “prelate,” Durham said.

The website,, still lists Ross as pastor.

The home page encourages visitors to drive down Rocky Creek Road and “see how the new building protrudes the air like a phoenix rising from the ashes.”

The text continues: “So why does the church continue to stand despite (Ross’) absence? Pastor Ross has been favored and forgiven.”

A woman who answered the church phone Monday morning said she was not able to comment about the fire and hung up.

To contact writer Liz Fabian, call 744-4303.

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