Two days after a blaze tore through the building of a venerable church in Chicago’s Englewood neighborhood, its pastor told his congregation Sunday that with God’s help they could rebuild.
“Though we had lost a great part of our church ...God is still in control ... We can raise up even stronger,” the Rev. Ronald Richardson said.
On Friday morning, an extra-alarm blaze destroyed the back of Love, Faith and Praise Church, 409 W. 70th St., which was built in the 1860s. Nearly 200 firefighters responded to the scene, some of whom arrived as flames were shooting through the roof.
Nobody was injured, but officials initiated an investigation.
On Sunday, the church held a service across the street after the pastor of Antioch Missionary Baptist Church South allowed the congregation to use its building.
“I saw the look on (Pastor) Richardson’s face of ‘what am I going to do next?’ “ Antioch’s Rev. Carsie Barnes, II said. “The Lord placed it in my heart to offer up our building.”
About 60 people from both churches piled into the pews of Antioch on Sunday preparing to sing worship songs and listen to Richardson’s sermon. The energetic service was marked with both gratitude and sadness Sunday, as congregants got used to their new surroundings.
“I want you all to loosen up now. We’re across the street at our brother’s house,” Richardson told his congregation. “Some might say (it’s) hard to be at someone else’s pulpit ... but it’s not. I don’t feel like I am away from home.”
Friday’s blaze left behind damaged walls, piles of charred brick and a lingering stench of smoke. Yellow caution tape was still tied to nearby trees Sunday, as congregants of Love, Faith and Praise stood on the corner and prayed for the resources to rebuild.
“We know that you are a God of restoration. We know that you are able to restore,” church evangelist Jerome Weatherspoon said. “God said: ‘I am able to tear down and I’m able to build back up.’ “
The church will be accepting donations to rebuild, according to a spokesman. Before the fire, the church had planned to use part of its building to open a community space for local youth looking for safe haven away from violence, Richardson said.
Richardson was emotional as he told reporters Sunday that the fire was a small set-back for a church that has carried on the mission of Christianity for decades. During the 1950s, the church -- then named Normal Park Baptist Church — made headlines when its membership voted to become an integrated congregation.
After the service Sunday, Mary Richardson, who has been attending Antioch for about seven years, said she was glad her church was able to step in and help.
“That’s what (Christians) should be about ... helping people,” she said.
Tribune reporter Peter Nickeas contributed.