Antioch Missionary Baptist Church in Englewood to be demolished after devastating fire

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CHICAGO (SCS) — Five days after an additional fire alarm gutted Antioch Missionary Baptist Church in Englewood, city officials said the surviving structure was unsafe and should be torn down.

In a statement released Wednesday morning, the Chicago Department of Buildings said it “will begin demolishing the building this morning and is committed to continuing to work closely with Antioch Missionary Baptist leaders as they make in the face of the loss of this historic pillar of the community”.

The fire first broke out around 2:30 p.m. Friday. The fire department then issued a 3-11 alarm for additional equipment and manpower.

The fire completely scorched the roof structure, leaving much heavy wood to crash onto the floor of the church. Benches were also likely on fire inside the structure.

Amazingly, a mural of Jesus ascending to heaven appeared untouched by the fire and remained largely untouched after the fire.

CFD has since confirmed that the cause of the fire was accidental due to ongoing work on the roof of the church.

A Good Friday service had been held at the church at noon, about two and a half hours before the fire.

The Missionary Baptist Church of Antioch held its Easter Sunday services at Calahan Funeral Home, 7030 S. Halsted St.

Even after the blaze was extinguished, the flames reignited several times over the following days, prompting firefighters to hose down the ruins and pour moss over the rubble in an attempt to starve the embers of oxygen.

A source from Preservation Chicago says the church building is not a designated Chicago landmark – but the organization believes it should have been.

The church building at Stewart and Englewood Avenues is listed on the Chicago Historic Resource Survey and dates back to the 1880s and was designed by the architectural firm Bell & Swift.

It started as Englewood Baptist Congregational Church before becoming Englewood Missionary Baptist Church, the source said.

The Antioch Baptist Missionary Congregation began in 1925, under the branch of Reverend EH. The church congregation originally worshiped in Bronzeville and later in Washington Park.

Under the guidance of the Reverend Dr. Wilbur Nathan Daniel, the Antioch Baptist missionary moved into his Englewood home in 1958. The church purchased the structure for $200,000, with an additional $75,000 needed for renovations before d ‘move in.

“Our faith tells us that joy comes in the morning,” senior pastor Gerald Dew said. “We cried on Friday, and we cried last night. But the joy came this morning.”

Dew compared the resurrection of Jesus Christ to the devastation they suffered.

“Hopes were dashed this Friday. These are the emotions we know so well because we just had a terrible Friday,” he said.

Meanwhile, church members have kept going out towards the ruined church.

“It’s like losing a loved one,” said Eddie Johnson III.

Johnson has been coming to the Antioch Missionary Baptist Church since childhood. His zeal for community work began when he played basketball in the church gymnasium as a child.

“It gave me a platform to give back,” Johnson said.

Johnson is now a church leader himself, serving as executive director of the church’s nonprofit – Antioch Community Social Service Agency.

This is just one story of the thousands of people who have been helped in Englewood since the church moved into the building in 1958. Weddings, funerals, graduations, community events have all taken place in the church building.

Johnson said the social services agency helped distribute 500 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine around Englewood.

“Next summer we’ll be having a summer day camp. We’re having a day camp in this building,” Johnson said. “So now we’re going to have to look for a safe haven for the youngsters. It’s frustrating. It’s a loss. But we have hope.”

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