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Fire destroys Good Shepherd Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia

Congregations housed in building prepare to find a new place of worship

by Rick Jones | Presbyterian News Service

The charred shell of Good Shepherd Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia following an early Monday morning fire. (Photo by Greg Klimovitz)

The charred shell of Good Shepherd Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia following an early Monday morning fire. (Photo by Greg Klimovitz)

LOUISVILLE – For more than a century, the Good Shepherd Presbyterian Church stood tall in the city’s Overbrook neighborhood. Now only the charred outer walls of the building remain after fire raged through the church early Monday morning.

Firefighters were quickly on the scene. Witnesses say it didn’t take long for the flames to get out of control shooting from the church’s doors, windows and roof. At least one person was in the church when the fire broke out, but firefighters were able to bring that person to safety.

An investigation into a cause continues. Authorities believe it may have begun in the church’s basement.

“The clean up is still handicapped by the time it will take for the city to do the investigation,” said Lead Pastor, the Rev. J.B. Adams III. “It’s very difficult to say how things are going because we can’t get into the building until the city fire marshal allows it.”

The building was home to six churches as well as a preschool, after school programs and a daycare center. Staff at the Presbytery of Philadelphia is working with the church on locations for upcoming worship, insurance and other issues as well as determining how to move forward in rebuilding.

“There are things about a 1912 structure that are not the best conduit for ministry in 2016. We need to pause, hear God’s voice, see the gifts God has given to those who are here today and determine what the needs are and what is appropriate moving forward,” said the Rev. Kevin Porter, stated clerk with the Presbytery of Philadelphia. “This will take time but I am hopeful the different faith communities that called the church their home will share in the same spirit and communicate that to their neighbors.”

Following the fire, the presbytery issued a statement.

“We thank God there were no injuries or loss of life, and we are thankful for the amazing efforts of all the firefighters and first responders who kept the fire from spreading to neighboring homes and businesses,” said the Rev. Ruth Faith Santana-Grace, executive presbyter in a prepared statement. “Our prayers for comfort, peace and hope are with Pastor J.B. Adams, the congregation of Good Shepherd and the other worshiping communities that met in the Good Shepherd building.”

Neighbors and members of the several congregations meeting at Good Shepherd Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia gather at a Tuesday evening prayer vigil following an early Monday morning fire. (Photo by Greg Klimovitz)

Neighbors and members of the several congregations meeting at Good Shepherd Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia gathered at a Tuesday evening prayer vigil following an early Monday morning fire. (Photo by Greg Klimovitz)

Adams says at least half of the congregations from the church have found places to worship this Sunday. All gathered with community residents for a prayer vigil on Tuesday evening.

“With the backdrop of the church frame behind us, there was a strong showing of solidarity between the different faith communities present,” said Porter. “The Church of Jesus Christ is the community of believers, not the structure and although that structure may have been damaged, the Church of Jesus Christ is very much alive.”

Jim Kirk, national associate for Presbyterian Disaster Assistance, reached out to the presbytery following the fire.

“This is a historic church with a small congregation and they’ve been working to help the other congregations find alternative spaces. I spoke with presbytery officials and offered PDA support,” said Kirk. “We are prepared to assist the church in any way we can.”

Adams says they’re hoping to get into the building later this week. “We have to find the good that can come out of this and sometimes you have to look pretty hard to find the good.”


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