Demolition begins on Englewood church gutted by fire
Building inspectors ordered the demolition of Antioch Missionary Baptist Church because the building was structurally unsound after the fire.
Memories floated through Jonathan Austin’s mind as he leaned against a tree Wednesday across from the Antioch Missionary Baptist Church as workers began to demolish the fire-damaged structure.
Bake sales, sermons, chandeliers, his parents’ funerals.
“I came to take a last look,” said Austin, a truck driver for UPS who stopped by in his brown uniform after wrapping up an overnight shift.
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Austin was baptized at the church in 1973 and still counts himself as a member.
“I haven’t been to services as often as I should because I work on Sundays,” he said.
“Everybody wanted to grow up to be like Jordan. I wanted to grow up to be like Dr. Daniel,” he said, referring to Wilbur Nathan Daniel, the church’s former pastor who passed away in 1999.
“This place is a safe haven. Whenever I am discouraged I go there and sit in the balcony, always the balcony,” said Austin, whose father, Samuel Austin, served as a church minister.
Gerald M. Dew, who currently heads up the church, paced outside the building Wednesday, occasionally talking on his cellphone. He declined to chat with reporters.
Chicago Fire Department spokesperson Larry Langford said church leaders hope to save the iconic neon sign outside the building.
But a beloved mural depicting Jesus ascending to the heavens, though spared by the fire, could not be saved.
“Unfortunately, we are not able to save the mural,” a spokesperson for the Buildings Department said, explaining that it wasn’t “technically feasible to cut, lift, and remove the wall intact.”
Doing so “would pose a significant safety risk to workers and could cause other segments of the structurally comprised building to collapse,” the spokesperson said.
The church, at 6248 S. Stewart Ave., was built in the 1880s and has been home to the Antioch Missionary Baptist congregation since 1958.
Building inspectors ordered the building’s demolition because it was structurally unsound and potentially a danger to surrounding buildings and public safety.
The church caught fire Friday, not long after Dew presided over a Good Friday service.
It was accidentally sparked by a propane torch being used to work on the church’s roof, the Chicago Fire Department determined.
The fire reignited two additional times in the following days, and briefly sparked up again Wednesday after falling stones from the demolition kicked up flames among debris in the basement.
City officials, in a statement, pledged to work closely with church leaders “as they deal with the loss of this historic community pillar.”
The demolition was expected to take several days to complete.