Popular Church Catch Fire

A mural depicting Christ’s resurrection was left relatively unscathed by a series of fires at a 128-year-old Chicago church that the city determined cannot be salvaged. The church’s pastor sees the mural’s survival as a comforting sign from God of better things to come.

The mural shows Jesus ascending to Heaven with angels around Him and the Bible verse Luke 24:51 that says, “While he was blessing them, he left them and was taken up into heaven.”

A fire broke out at Antioch Missionary Baptist Church in Englewood shortly after a Good Friday service led by Pastor Gerald Dew, NBC’s Chicago affiliate WMAQ reported, adding that the fire was accidentally caused by a propane torch by a worker repairing the church’s roof.

Chicago Fire Department crews returned to the church over several days as they worked to put out the fire that continued to reignite.

Despite the heartache of seeing the church engulfed in flames, Dew said he found hope in the mural’s survival.

“I don’t want to say dawn on me, but I’m beginning to really process, that’s a better word, process the magnitude of the loss,” the pastor told local news outlet WLS Tuesday as fire crews twice returned to the church that day to extinguish flames that reignited amid the rubble as crews knocked bricks done inside the church.

“He (Jesus) promised He would return. And so, just as He is risen, and has ascended, we believe we will rise from this.

“If we get the word that these walls that you see standing can be saved that would be an incredible blessing to us,” Dew added, hopeful that part of the church could be salvaged and rebuilt.

However, Chicago’s building department decided that the walls sustained too much damage to be saved. CBS Chicago reported that plans are underway to tear down the north, east, and south walls but leave the west wall, which holds a school. It is estimated that the demolition process will take at least a week or two.

Ward Miller, executive director of Preservation Chicago, had also hoped the historic church could be saved.

“Antioch Church, in my opinion, was a landmark quality building — and unfortunately, the procedure never happened where was taken into landmarks and reviewed,” Miller said.

“Antioch could be rebuilt within its historic shell and it doesn’t have to necessarily be rebuilt exactly like it was,” Miller added. “I think that a reconstruction would bring about much more interest to the greater community than just the church itself.”

The Jesus mural is now starting to peel, and the city doesn’t know if it can be saved amid the demolition.

“I’m going to miss that mural,” said Antioch Missionary Baptist church trustee Darren Garrett to CBS Chicago. “Hopefully we can save part of it, but if not, I want to thank the Hicks brothers — because we had it retouched up maybe like 15 years ago. And that mural, everybody loved that mural.”

The trustee not only worked at the church, but his family’s connection to it extends back to his great-grandmother. Garrett said his family had been at the church “all [their] lives” ever since his great-grandmother left a different Antioch church to attend services at the one that recently burned. The church was built in 1894.

“All our members are hurt by it, but we’re going to be here and rebuild and we’re going to be even closer behind this,” Garrett added. “I was still hoping and praying that we would be able to keep the walls — some parts of it — but God knows what’s best.”

“Our faith tells us that joy comes in the morning,” Dew told CBS Chicago. “We did weep on Friday, and we wept last night. But joy came this morning. Hopes were dashed on that Friday. These are the emotions that we are so familiar with because we just experienced an awful Friday.”

The Chicago Department of Buildings said in a statement that it “is committed to continuing to work closely with the leadership of the Antioch Missionary Baptist as they deal with the loss of this historic community pillar.”

When the Antioch congregation started in 1925, worship services were initially held in Bronzeville and later Washington Park. The church relocated to Englewood in 1958, spending $200,000 to purchase the building and another $75,000 to remodel it. The building that housed the church was constructed in 1894.

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