Historic Antioch Church in Englewood looks for donations ahead of expansive rebuild

A year after a fire destroyed the building on Good Friday, plans to rebuild have been finalized, but the church still needs at least $3 million to open debt-free in 2025.

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Rev. Gerald Dew on Monday stands outside of the former Antioch Baptist Church in the 6200 block of South Stewart Avenue.

The Rev. Gerald Dew stands outside the former Antioch Baptist Church Monday in the 6200 block of South Stewart Avenue.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

The Rev. Gerald Dew remembers exactly where he was on Good Friday last year. That day — April 15, 2022, he’d led a noon service at Antioch Missionary Baptist Church, where he’d been pastor since 2001, and then he went home.

Dew was sitting at home when he got a call from a trustee saying there’d been a fire at the church. He assumed it was from something minor.

“Do you think I should come?” he wondered.

“Let me explain it to you like this,” the trustee said. “Somebody at the bus stop turned around and saw flames coming out of the roof.”

Dew got dressed and headed in.

The entire worship center of the historic South Side church was destroyed by flames. The fire was linked to neglect by a roofing company working on the 140-year-old building, said Barnes Joyce, the project manager and church trustee.

Nearly a year later, church leaders are asking for donations to reopen the church debt-free for Easter 2025.

The church is notable in political circles. Former pastor, the Rev. Wilbur N. Daniel, was friendly with the Daley family, and was president of the Police Board. Throughout its history the church has tied itself to social justice movements and began investing in fair housing initiatives in the 1960s.

The entire building had to be demolished, sending the congregation to Urban Prep High School for worship services. Members have to rotate which services they attend to accommodate the smaller space.

Before COVID-19 precautions and the fire, Sunday services typically drew around 1,000 attendees. Now they’re down to about 300 churchgoers a week.

“It was a great blow to membership, morale and spirit,” Dew said.

Plans to rebuild and triple the previous square footage are estimated to cost about $18 million. Design plans have been completed and will likely go out to receive proposals from contractors this week.

The new site, at the same location in the 6300 block of South Stewart Avenue, will include a new worship center and an empowerment center, tripling the space to 33,000 square feet.

Rev. Gerald Dew surveys the damage Monday in the empowerment center next to the former Antioch Baptist Church that was gutted due to smoke and fire damage a year ago.

The Rev. Gerald Dew surveys damage Monday in the empowerment center next to the former Antioch Baptist Church that was gutted by smoke and fire damage a year ago.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

Within those centers will be a youth center, gym, banquet hall, cafeteria, computer lab, classrooms and a meeting space.

Insurance has paid out $10.5 million for the rebuild, and the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development has given $4 million specifically for the empowerment center, Dew said.

The church has received donations of $344,000, but Dew encourages donations of any kind to help the church open debt-free. The church needs about $3 million to $5 million more.

“All we need is a million people to give $3,” he said.

Dew was adamant that the rebuild happen on the same land of the original building to help preserve the memories of churchgoers.

“With the loss of the building comes the pain of, ‘can’t look at the place where I was baptized, where I was married, where my mother had her funeral,’ that kind of thing,” Dew explained. “So that’s why we believe that it is absolutely vital, critical, necessary and important to rebuild the worship center on that same site.”

Dew and Joyce agree that this was an opportunity to upgrade prior services of the building to accommodate a 21st century congregation.

The last year of being displaced has been about “adapting to a new normal,” but Dew said humans are built for it.

“My faith teaches me that nothing can happen outside of the will of God,” Dew said. “Understanding that, as horrible and destructive as the fire was, God allowed it to happen. Since he allowed it to happen, I have to believe he has a plan to have another building on the same spot.”

Mariah Rush is a staff reporter at the Chicago Sun-Times via Report for America, a not-for-profit journalism program that aims to bolster the paper’s coverage of communities on the South and West sides.

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