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Wednesday, February 08, 2006                                                                                       View Comments

Church arson follows pastor's arrest

SALISBURY -- State investigators have ruled arson as the cause of a fire at a Mount Hermon Road church, only days after one of its pastors was accused of having an improper relationship with a minor in the congregation.

The Maryland State Fire Marshal's Office said the 10:47 p.m. Friday fire at New Life the Apostolic Church was started when somebody went into the church and ignited flammable material.

Investigators said Saturday it took 40 firefighters from Salisbury about five minutes to control the blaze, which caused about $85,000 in damage. The fire was contained to the church's foyer and it is not expected to force the 400 members to another church.

"It is just a shock that somebody could do this," said one church member, who declined to be identified.

The arson comes two days after one of the church's pastors was charged by police with having an improper relationship with a minor.

Joshua Wayne Lawson, 29, of Salisbury is charged with sex abuse, second-degree assault, perverted practice, a fourth-degree sex offense and contributing to the condition of a child rendering that child in need of assistance, said detectives from the Wicomico County Child Advocacy Center late Friday.

Police said between August and November 2005, Lawson allegedly was involved in an extended sexual relationship with a 16-year-old girl who attends the church where Lawson serves as a youth minister.

After an investigation by WCAC officials, an arrest warrant was issued for Lawson. He was taken into custody Wednesday at the church and charged.

Authorities did not comment Saturday if there was a connection between the two incidents.

Lawson was transported to Wicomico County Detention Center where he was held on bond, police said Friday. His criminal disposition was not available Saturday.

Officials from the church were not available for comment.