A century-old church in Mendocino County burned over the weekend under suspicious circumstances, according to an elder with the Presbyterian congregation in the remote town of Covelo.

The back doors were open when tribal police responded to the Perry Street building just after 1 a.m. Saturday after receiving reports of smoke coming from the structure, church elder Dave Nixon said.

Cal Fire and Covelo volunteer firefighters tried to save the church, but it was destroyed. The Mendocino County Sheriff’s Office is investigating the fire’s cause. Nixon said transient people were known to camp out by the back door.

The New Life Community Church — originally called Covelo Presbyterian Church — was founded in 1884 by pioneer settlers of Covelo in the Round Valley, a remote community northeast of Laytonville. It was built after a landowner gave the congregation deed to the property in 1886, according to a church history pamphlet.

The church currently has about 25 parishioners, who gathered Monday afternoon to talk about rebuilding, Nixon said.

“We just can’t believe it,” Nixon said. “But the church is the people and the meeting place is just a building.”

You can reach Staff Writer Julie Johnson at 707-521-5220 or julie.johnson@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @jjpressdem. You can reach Staff Writer Randi Rossmann at 707‑521-5412 or randi.rossmann@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter@rossmannreport.