Pastor vows to rebuild fire-ravaged church in West Philly

Tim Jimenez
August 28, 2019 - 9:44 am
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WEST PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — As fire officials continue work to find out how the three-alarm fire at a West Philly church started Tuesday afternoon, the church's pastor promises to rebuild.

Related: 3-alarm fire ravages West Philly church; congregants are optimistic

At the Greater Bible Way Temple at 52nd and Warren streets early Wednesday morning, all that's left is a charred roof and a partially-collapsed infrastructure, decimated by Tuesday's flames. The front stone structure is still in tact.

But Bishop Benjamin Peterson is keeping the faith and accepting the challenge to move forward.

"Not give in or give up," he said, "and a challenge to say what the sign says on the front of the church: Our motto has been for the last three years, 'Things just got better.' "

Peterson is grateful no one was hurt. He was napping in his office when the fire broke out, but he woke up just in time.

A few dozen people who were living in a homeless shelter connected to the church are also OK. The outreach center serves about 30 families on a daily basis. The church is now trying to locate them to make sure they have a place to stay for the foreseeable future. 

The Bible Way congregation began in 1957 at a mission near Ninth and Bainbridge streets. In 1971, the original building was also destroyed by a fire, so the church acquired a former movie theater near 60th and Spruce streets.

In 1984, it moved again to its present location near 52nd and Warren streets, formerly St. Gregory's complex. It was built 115 years ago. 

So far, there has been no decision about where to hold church services this Sunday. Peterson said other churches offered to host the congregation, or they may just set up a tent on the street.

"And bring chairs and tables out," he said, "and win some souls for Christ."

As for how the fire started, Peterson said a worker was using a blow torch while making repairs on the roof. Fire officials, however, are still trying to nail down the exact cause.

"I’m broken but not destroyed," he added. "I’m very devastated, but we thank God no lives were lost."