Two days after a fire decimated Englewood’s historic Antioch Missionary Baptist Church on Good Friday, Pastor Gerald Dew led an Easter service at a nearby funeral home where he compared the tragedy and its fallout to the biblical death and rebirth of Jesus Christ.
“Hearts were broken that Friday,” he said of Christ’s crucifixion. “Tears fell on that Friday. Hopes were dashed on that Friday. These are the emotions that we are so familiar with because we just experienced an awful Friday. Let’s thank God for resurrection Sunday.”
Not long after Dew held a Good Friday service that afternoon, fire began tearing through the historic structure at 6428 S. Stewart Ave. No one was inside the church at the time, according to Larry Langford, a Chicago Fire Department spokesman.
The fireappeared to begin in the upper reararea of the church and ultimately caused the roof to collapse, officials said. Around 150 fire personnel and 50 engines, trucks and ambulances responded to the scene and put out the fire in about two hours.
Fire investigators determined the blaze was accidental, reporting Saturday that it was caused by a propane torch being used to help work on the roof.
Built in the 1880s, the church has long been an anchor of the Englewood community. After hundreds gathered Sunday at Calahan Funeral Home, 7030 S. Halsted St., Dew told reporters the service marked “a new beginning” for the church and even brought new members.
“It was just overwhelming to just see the outpouring of love and to see the positivity,” he said. “And to see [congregants] even work through their own brokenness and their own tears and their own concerns and yet be able to look past that, knowing that God has something better for us.”
Still, Dew acknowledged the congregation’s future remains uncertain, noting it’s unclear where next Sunday’s service will be held. He also called for donations to address the toll of the fire but said there’s no “end goal” for fundraising.
“We just have been bombarded by individuals that want to help and want to give and want to support,” he said. “So we just want to be diligent and responsible by setting up the proper methodology with the proper accountability to receive contributions.”
Dew said he plans to have planning conversations with other church leaders and the Rev. Jesse Jackson, who was on hand Sunday. Jackson called for $10,000 in donations by next Sunday as he pointed to Antioch’s deep connections to the civil rights movement, recalling the “landmark” church fed him and his family and “helped subsidize [Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s] support in Chicago.”
“I’ve seen resurrection in my own lifetime,” he told the Sun-Times. “And this church is gonna be bigger and stronger than ever.”
Dewanda Day, a singer in Antioch’s choir, said she was devastated when she learned the church caught fire shortly after she left Friday’s service. A member of the congregation since she was just 18 months, Day said the spirit of the church extends beyond its walls.
“We will continue on, even though our building has been destroyed. It’s not going to stop what we do as Christians,” said Day, who lives in Harvey and brought her young daughter Sunday. “Wherever we have to be, wherever we relocate until we rebuild, that’s where we’re going and that’s what we’re gonna do.”