Antioch Missionary Baptist Church begins fundraising efforts for new building

As demolition on the historic structure continues, church officials announced Thursday the start of their fundraising campaign to rebuild on the same site.

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Englewood’s Antioch Missionary Baptist Church caught fire April 15, and the Department of Buildings began demolition April 20. The only thing to be saved was the church’s iconic neon sign.

Englewood’s Antioch Missionary Baptist Church caught fire April 15, and the Department of Buildings began demolition Wednesday. On Thursday, crew members used jackhammers to continue tearing apart the structure.

Cheyanne M. Daniels/Sun-Times file

The sound of cracking wood, a jackhammer against stone and beeping machinery pierced the air at Stewart Road and Englewood Avenue.

Demolition on the historic Antioch Missionary Baptist Church continued Thursday, as church leaders launched a fundraising campaign and vowed to rebuild on the same site.

The church caught fire April 15, and the smoldering hulk re-ignited several times over the past few days, including briefly on Wednesday, the day demolition began.

Complete demolition, led by the Chicago Department of Buildings, is expected to take several days.

As of now, the only thing being saved is the cross-shaped neon sign that hung on the outside of the church, 6248 S. Stewart Ave., and was still there as work continued on Thursday. A spokesperson for the church said a planning committee is considering the possibility of salvaging some stones from the church walls to be used in some way in the new building, but it remains unclear if that can be done.

Rev. Gerald M. Dew, Antioch’s pastor, said demolishing and rebuilding are expected to take at least two years. The total cost is yet to be determined, but Dew said rebuilding in the same location is needed to “maintain the skyline of Englewood.”

Antioch Missionary Baptist Church Pastor Gerald M. Dew speaks to reporters outside the Englewood church at 6248 S. Stewart Ave. Thursday morning, April 21, 2022.

Antioch Missionary Baptist Church Pastor Gerald M. Dew speaks to reporters outside the Englewood church at 6248 S. Stewart Ave. Thursday morning.

Cheyanne M. Daniels/Sun-Times

A news conference announcing those plans was held Thursday near the church site, still surrounded by fencing and yellow “CAUTION” tape. Rev. Dew was joined by dozens of people, including U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush, who said he’d try to see if federal assistance is possible. Also there was Ald. Stephanie Coleman (16th), who called the church “a pillar of the community” and noted her grandmother’s funeral had been held there.

Rev. Dew confirmed the church was insured, but declined to say for how much.

Those gathered Thursday expressed hope for the future of the congregation. Ruth Holmes, a parishioner for 45 years, said most of her family was baptized at the church.

“Even though it’s gone, God’s got something better for us,” Holmes said.

Rev. Dew said Mayor Lori Lightfoot helped the church arrange to hold services in the auditorium of the Urban Prep Charter Academy for Young Men, right across the street.

Demolition work continued Thursday, April 21, 2022 at the fire-gutted Antioch Missionary Baptist Church in Englewood. Church leaders have launched a fundraising campaign to rebuild on the site.

Demolition work continued Thursday at the fire-gutted Antioch Missionary Baptist Church in Englewood. Church leaders have launched a fundraising campaign to rebuild on the site.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

Among the biggest losses is a mural inside the church, showing Jesus ascending to heaven. It survived the fire but cannot be saved.

The original mural was updated by twin artists Alan and Aaron Hicks, and Alan Hicks said he and his brother would “absolutely” be willing to create a mural for the new facility. In fact, he said, they’ve already been in contact with the church.

Rev. Dew was excited about the possibility. “Certainly not as large, but something that can give us reflection,” the pastor said.

When Rush heard about the fire on Friday, “it was like a part of my whole being was being destroyed by fire,” he said.

“Antioch has always been an institution that we knew would always be there, always a landmark, always a touchstone,” the congressman added. “It will exist again.”

Donations to the church can be made at ambcchicago.org.

Cheyanne M. Daniels 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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