Pilgrim Baptist Church: “We Will Survive”

TBGB: Contributions to help Pilgrim Baptist Church rebuild can be sent to:

Pilgrim Baptist Church, c/o Amalgamated Bank, 1 W. Monroe, Chicago 60603

Upbeat congregation vows to rebuild
January 8, 2006
From the Chicago Sun-Times

BY DAVE NEWBART Staff Reporter Advertisement

A congregation that just lost its 115-year-old landmark building could be grim at the first official church function to follow.

Not members of Pilgrim Baptist Church in Bronzeville.

Less than 24 hours after a spectacular fire gutted their historic building — the birthplace of gospel music — many congregants were upbeat about the future of the church.

“We’re going to be fine,” proclaimed Alfonso Carrington, chairman of the deacon board at the church. “We’ve been through a lot with this church, and we’ve learned to survive. We will survive this.”

He and a half dozen other men went to a church community center across the street from the destroyed building at 3301 S. Indiana at 6 a.m. Saturday and cooked up a breakfast of eggs, bacon, grits, and biscuits for about 60 parishioners. Many there shared his optimism.

“With God, anything is possible,” said 85-year-old Freida Harris, a church member since 1939, who then corrected herself: “Everything is possible.”

In fact, the congregants were already announcing bold plans to rebuild the church.

Whatever is done, Carrington said, will take a good deal of money, though. The church was insured, and Carrington said insurance adjusters were scheduled to visit over the weekend. Church leaders had to inquire from the insurer just what coverage they had because they lost their records in the fire.

“You never have enough,” Carrington said.

4 firefighters out of hospital

Coverage also might come from the contractor who was working on the roof at the time the fire broke out, Carrington said. It was time to get in touch with professionals like a roof repair austin tx company when it came to replacing a 12-year-old roof that had been leaking. The contractors had been working for more than a month, although Carrington said he thought the work already had been completed and was unaware the roofers were at the building Friday.

The work cost about $130,000, Carrington said, part of a $500,000 remodeling project that included the installation of an elevator that was to be unveiled today.

In the hours before the fire, roofers were fitting “coping,” or metal waterproofing materials, to seal a new roof, according to a source close to the investigation. Coping is sealed with a blowtorch. There are Winston Salem roofing contractors that can delve into this process if more information is needed.

The owner of Conrad Roofing did not return phone messages left Saturday at the company’s Northwest Side office. A man identifying himself as Jacob, who answered the company phone but declined to give his last name, said, “I have no information.”

The company got a city permit Oct. 14 to tear off and replace the old roof and install new copper gutters and downspouts and chimney flashing, said a spokesman for the city Buildings Department. The company is bonded, Carrington said and had replaced a roof on the church-owned community center.

The cause of the fire has not been officially determined, said a Fire Department spokesman, who added investigators were making no assumptions.

Meanwhile, the four firefighters hospitalized with minor injuries from battling the blaze were released Saturday.

Firefighters continued to shoot water into the structure Saturday as smoke billowed into the air and icicles formed around the church’s sign. The roof collapsed in the blaze, but the outer walls remained standing. Officials could not say, however, whether the building was structurally sound. Regardless, they will still need the services of a commercial roof repair company to help as part of the rebuilding process so that the remodel can continue.

Watching the firefighters from across the street, Henry Grady, 87, said she couldn’t believe the church she had attended for the last 61 years was all but gone.

“The walls of Pilgrim Baptist Church will never be the same,” Grady said. “But I think we can rebuild.” However, we may require help from a lot of people, such as roof repairing experts in and around the town to bring the church to its old glory. Even though fixing your roof leak or mine may not be easy, having a roof over the head is a blessing!

School’s fate uncertain

The church plans to hold today’s 11 a.m. service at Operation PUSH headquarters at 50th and Drexel. After authorities finish at the scene, they hope to be able to regularly hold services at the church’s community center until the church is rebuilt.

Another group that appeared to have lost everything in the fire had a decidedly different outlook. Elmira Mayes, founder, and director of Loop Lab School, which rented space in a small building next to the church, said Saturday she had no idea where she would hold classes.

The private school, which serves 80 children ages 3 to 13 who are mostly African American, has been in business for 23 years in various locations.

Water caused the roof to cave in, and she’s not sure if any of the school’s computers, books or other supplies can be salvaged.

“I am in desperate need of a place,” Mayes said. “I’m looking for someplace to go, or somebody to help me find a place.”

Offers to assist the historic church came in from local and state politicians, including Rep. Bobby Rush (D-Ill.), who told reporters he’d seek federal funds. Ald. Dorothy Tillman (3rd) said she was talking with private donors and would ask the mayor this week if the city could pitch in.

Other offers of aid came from as far away as Southern California, where pastor Wiley Drake of the First Southern Baptist Church in Buena Park, Calif., said he’d pass a hat to help Pilgrim at today’s service, as well as broadcast their plight on his Internet sermon.

“We’ll do whatever we can to help,” he said.

Others can send donations to Pilgrim Baptist Church, c/o Amalgamated Bank, 1 W. Monroe, Chicago 60603.

About Bob Marovich

Bob Marovich is a gospel music historian, author, and radio host. Founder of Journal of Gospel Music blog (formally The Black Gospel Blog) and producer of the Gospel Memories Radio Show.

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