It's been a year since an arsonist twice set fire to Mount Pleasant's Palmetto Presbyterian Church, blackening the facility's exterior with soot and damaging its Gothic mahogany doors.

And though authorities continue to search for the person responsible, the church's members are currently celebrating a timely work of art that was fashioned out of the destructive act.

Palmetto Presbyterian's Pastor Michael Fitze said the back wall of his church's sanctuary previously stood bare.

But now when he stands in the pulpit and voices the word of God, he sees, just beyond his congregation, a Celtic cross that was shaped from the scorched wood.

Member Derrick Russ had approached the pastor about the possibility of fashioning something new from the wood of one of the damaged doors.

Given the go-ahead, Russ unfastened the door's hinges and dismantled its frame. He carved away the burned edges and shaped the 5-foot tall mahogany cross complete with adjoining arcs in the form of an eternity circle.

The church recently suspended the cross high against the sanctuary wall in the days leading up to Easter Sunday.

"It's been a year since the fires, so it's nice that we were able to do this now," Fitze said. "We've come full circle."

Palmetto Presbyterian is tucked away within a wooded community at 1720 Carolina Park Blvd., just south of Wando High School.

Last year, Russ' wife and other members arrived at the church the morning of Good Friday to prepare for a worship service.

The group, however, stopped in its tracks at the sight of the building's front doors, which were noticeably blackened with soot. Fire and smoke had also damaged the church's side doors and shrubbery that lined the base of the building.

Mount Pleasant police had responded to the church three weeks prior to investigate similar fire damage.

Neither fire was severe enough to trigger the church's fire alarm or sprinkler system. The flames never breached the church's hefty 3-inch-thick doors or the building's siding.

Inspiration sparked as Russ eyed the scorched mahogany of one door with a frame that rose into a pointed arch.

"It was the style of it," Russ said. "It occurred to me that I could take it apart and it would easily make a cross."

Russ moved forward with the idea, in part due to the urging of his wife, who sings on the choir.

"She mentioned a couple times how the choir looks back at the congregation and there wasn't much of anything to focus on other than the bare wall," Russ said.

With the help of his son and other church members, Russ chipped away at the singed wood for hours over the course of five months.

The undertaking was Russ' first major project in 20 years, aside from the book shelves, small tables and stools he created in high school and college.

Russ' work was met with acclamation and applause from his fellow church members, he said.

"I got a lot of compliments. A lot of folks saying, 'I didn't know you could do that,'" Russ said.

State Law Enforcement Division agents were asked last year to assist in the investigation of both fires at the church. That investigation is ongoing, Mount Pleasant police spokesman Chip Googe said.

Reach Christina Elmore at 937-5908 or at