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Investigators: West Side church fire is arson

September 24, 2008 4:14:40 PM PDT
Investigators say a fire that destroyed a church on Chicago's West Side Tuesday was arson. No one was injured when flames tore through the New Rock of Ages Church, 4217 W. Harrison. The church has more than 300 members.

The pastor says he recently had a vision of building a bigger church that would house 12,000 people. However, this fire is quite a setback for the congregation, which is figuring out where to worship on Sunday.

Workers stopped demolition on the New Rock of Ages Church long enough Wednesday to remove the cross, one of the few items that could be salvaged after the church was consumed by fire Tuesday.

"It's devastating that we lost our church, but the hope, faith, confidence wasn't in the building," said Reverend Don Orr, New Rock of Ages Church.

The fire caused the roof of the church to collapse.

Firefighters battled to bring it under control while Reverend Orr and church members who gathered across the street prayed.

"I'm just flabbergasted. I mean, the church is burned down," said Francine McRae, church member

Wednesday, Reverend Orr returned to the church only to find out that investigators found accelerant in the sanctuary and determined the fire was the result of arson.

"The church does not make enemies, it makes friends, so we don't have any enemies that we're aware of," said Reverend Orr.

But Reverend Orr says he does think there's a connection between the fire and an attempted break-in to the church late Saturday night. He had scheduled an appointment for Tuesday morning to have shutters installed on the doors, but before he arrived, the church had already gone up in flames.

Some members have been with the church more than 30 years and say the most important thing is that the congregation is still in tact.

"We're gonna have somewhere to go Sunday for church. If it's out there on that vacant lot, we're gonna have church Sunday," said Rose Ramsey, board of trustees chairman.

It turns out, Sunday service will take place on the lot next to the church at 11a.m. Reverend Orr says he has gotten offers of help from more than a dozen ministers.

In the meantime, this fire is still under investigation. No one has been named a suspect.


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