With his church in a pile of a smoldering rubble, South Side bishop undeterred in mission to help Roseland’s poor

“I believe God can do anything. This is just a temporary setback. I still have hope,” Bishop Jerome Powell said.

SHARE With his church in a pile of a smoldering rubble, South Side bishop undeterred in mission to help Roseland’s poor
Bishop Jerome Powell Sr., minister of Beacon Light Ministry, stands in back of his fire-ravaged church as demolition crews begin to demolish the building, Tuesday, Jan. 21, 2020, in Chicago.

Bishop Jerome Powell’s church, Beacon Light Ministries, was ravaged by fire Monday, Jan. 20. | Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times

Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times

As Bishop Jerome Powell watched a giant mechanical claw demolish his fire-ravaged and still smoldering church Tuesday, his thoughts remained on the people who depend on him.

About 80 people line up every Sunday outside his Roseland neighborhood church — Beacon Light Ministries — for boxes of food. Their ranks include the homeless, addicts, people trying to get on their feet after being released from jail and others surviving on the fringe.

“Right now, I’m just on fumes. I can’t break down or shut down because my wife and kids are watching, and if I crash, they’ll crash. So I’m asking God to give me strength,” said Powell, a father of 10 whose wife, Conswella, serves as pastor. 

Powell was headed to the Shedd Aquarium on Monday with a group from his church when he received a phone call about 11:30 a.m. informing him his church at 11034 S. Michigan Ave. was on fire. 

Apart from a firefighter who suffered a minor laceration, no one was injured in the blaze.

“Nothing is salvageable,” he said, including seven freezers and two refrigerators that were packed with food. Toys and clothes intended for those in need also burned.

Powell said donations had already begun pouring in, and Sunday food giveaways would resume as soon as possible, most likely from a truck parked across the street from the rubble.

Within hours of the fire, Powell received several offers from ministers of other churches in the area to share space until Beacon Light Ministries and its congregation of about 80 people get back on its feet.

One of those offers came from Joe Huizenga, pastor of Roseland Christian Ministries.

“Bishop Powell has been a steady, good presence in this neighborhood for a long time,” Huizenga said. “We serve breakfast Sunday morning at our church, and then a lot of those people walk a couple blocks to Beacon Light for their groceries.” 

“Things can get kind of territorial with different churches, and that’s not the case with them. If Bishop Powell has a surplus of food he’ll call us and give it to us,” he said.

Chicago Police Officer Timothy Crawford, who came to know Powell and his church while spearheading outreach between law enforcement and faith leaders, has a great amount of respect for Powell’s church and plans to help in any way he can.

“Roseland is full of people who don’t have a lot, and the service they provide is very important and it comes from a place of love instead of pity. They genuinely care,” he said.

“They’re one of the most important ministries in the community by far,” Crawford said. ”They provide so many resources without any expectation of anything back.”

Crawford said Powell regularly partners with the police department to get kids excited to go back to school. 

“They stuff backpacks with school supplies and give them away to kids. And some church members who are hairdressers will do free hair braiding . . . they’re just really, really good people,” he said.

Powell plans to rebuild his church. He’ hopes insurance will help. It was not immediately clear what caused the fire. 

Powell’s daughter, Brittany, who also works for the church doing outreach, set up a GoFundMe account to raise money for the church.

“I believe God can do anything. This is just a temporary setback. I still have hope,” Powell said.

The Latest
The Railsplitters avenged last season’s championship loss to Nazareth with a resounding 60-44 IHSA Class 3A state championship win over Glenwood. Froebe set a Class 3A championship scoring record with her dominant 36-point performance.
The Ramblers (38-0) came back and won the IHSA Class 4A state championship 44-40 over Nazareth, but not because of their lethal offense. They won because they got gritty on defense.
The lowly Jackets — who have won only 18 of 58 games this season against teams other than the Hawks — cruised to a 5-2 victory Saturday, outscoring the Hawks 12-5 across their two meetings this season.