Englewood, Chicago church 'still in our hearts,' members say
CHICAGO (WLS) -- Demolition crews were back Thursday at a historic Chicago church destroyed by a fire last week, but members of that church remain steadfast in their faith that it will be rebuilt.
The Antioch Missionary Baptist Church in Englewood was consumed by flames on Good Friday. The Department of Buildings said Wednesday that the remaining structure is not sound, and poses a threat to surrounding buildings.
Even as the crews worked to tear it down, it appeared the fire was not done yet. Sparks have reignited several times this week, stalling the necessary teardown.
Many were hoping to save the large mural of Jesus ascending to heaven painted on an interior wall, but inspectors determined "it would pose a significant safety risk to workers and could cause other segments of the structurally comprised building to collapse. Unfortunately, we are not able to save the mural."
It's a delicate operation, taking almost as long to take down as it did to build up 125 years ago. Crews carefully took apart the front wall of the church literally brick by brick.
"It really hurts to see the building leave, but the church is still in our hearts," said Darren Garrett, a church trustee.
The church has been part of the lives of many members for generations. They've been baptized, married and had family funerals there. It has been a vital part of the community.
"It's devastating because it's a lot of memories," said Pam Woods, a parishioner. "The church burned down, but you cannot burn down the memories in their hearts."
According to church leaders, membership once was about 4,000 and now is closer to 1,000.
Fire investigators ruled the blaze was an accident and determined it was caused by crews using a propane torch while doing work on the building's roof.
The church's pastor said they hope to rebuild.
"Tearing it down, and we will raise it up again," Lead Pastor Gerald Dew said during a press conference Thursday.
The walls that heard decades of preaching and services will come down, but those memories are forever etched into the entire Englewood community.
"Antioch has been over the years such a pillar for this community, for our city and for our nation," Congressman Bobby Rush said.
Dew said plans are already underway to rebuild the Antioch Baptist church. And that church will stay in Englewood.
"We're not gonna raise it up in another community; we're gonna raise it up right here because our assignment is to Englewood, and our commitment is to the residents of Englewood and beyond, and it's a blessing to be able to share with them," he said.
Demolition crews said it will likely take at least a week and a half to bring the building down.
Because the church is so unstable, crews have to work by hand chipping away at the building before bringing in the heavy machinery.
Services have continued despite the loss of a physical building; last week they gathered for services at Callahan Funeral Home.
In a statement Thursday morning, church leaders said, "Antioch Missionary Baptist Church is still going strong, continuing Sunday Services through the generosity of the Calahan Legacy Center at 7046 S. Halsted and through its livestream on Antioch's website."
The church's monthly food giveaway will temporarily be in the Antioch parking lot at the corner of 61st Street and Stewart Avenue, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on May 7, 2022, until further notice.
The church's administrative offices are temporarily located at one of Antioch's several affordable housing locations, the Roseanna Burrell Homes, 423 W. Englewood Ave., Unit 1B, Chicago, IL 60621.
Information on all upcoming activities is on the church website www.ambcchicago.org.
Donations can be given through the church website, ambcchicago.org/give' on Givelify' through Zelle, email@example.com; or by mail, 611 W. 63rd Ave., Suite 012, Chicago, 60621 (please make checks payable to Antioch Missionary Baptist Church).