Fire destroys church in Overtown, but parishioners keep the faith

05/31/2014 11:08 AM

05/31/2014 5:50 PM

Rose Barnes wiped away tears as she stood in Miami’s Overtown neighborhood Saturday morning and saw what’s left of Christ Church of the Living God.

When the Miami Gardens resident heard something about a fire at her place of worship, she rushed over to see for herself. Barnes has attended the church for more than 20 years, and she expected some damage. But not this.

“There’s no more church,” she said, her voice cracking.

Standing inside the sanctuary of the red-and-white building, there is a clear view of the sky – the roof of the church is completely gone. Almost every stained glass window is shattered. A blackened pulpit is one of the only things recognizable in the debris.

On Friday night, just before 8 p.m., fire broke out in the back of a single-family home in the 200 block of Northwest 14th Terrace. The fire quickly spread to the church, which is next door at 225 NW 14th Terr.

The small congregation is close-knit. Barnes compared it to a family where there aren’t any strangers.

Through her tears, she motioned toward a seemingly unharmed potted plant visible through the church’s front door. She took it as a sign from God.

“There’s still life,” she said.

It took as many as 50 Miami firefighters to extinguish the fire, and neighbors quickly gathered on the street, some seeing posts about the fire on Facebook and Twitter and heading to the church building to find out more. The cause of the fire is still under investigation.

Officials originally thought a man was killed in the house next door to the church, but no fatalities have been confirmed, Lt. Ignatius Carroll, spokesman for Miami Fire-Rescue, said.

“We found out late last night,” he said. “It turned out there was nobody in there.”

Brittany Larmond has two young sons who attend a daycare center affiliated with the church. She picked up her sons Friday afternoon, and was shaken up when she realized the building burned down about three hours later.

“I wanted to cry,” she said. “It’s crazy.”

Larmond was shocked by how hot the flames were. As she stood across the street Friday night and watched firefighters, she felt like the sun was beating down on her.

Saturday morning, curious residents ducked under yellow crime scene tape to try to peek inside the destroyed building. An unidentified older woman who appeared to be affiliated with the church rebuked those who were walking inside.

“You all never came to the church before, so why come now?” she said angrily.

Willy Reddick lives a street over from Northwest 14th Terrace. He walked to the church Friday night because he could see the billowing flames from his house.

If not for firefighters, he said, “It would’ve burnt this whole city down.”

Efforts to reach church leaders were not successful. But parishioners who visited the church to get an idea of the damage were already planning Sunday morning’s service. They discussed setting up a tent on a nearby street and worshiping outdoors. Abandoning the fellowship didn’t cross their minds.

“We can’t just pack up and run,” churchgoer Seymour Jones said. “It’s just a building. The church is wherever we fellowship together.”

Jones referenced the book of Job, a biblical story about a man who lost his family, health and property but stayed faithful.

“In the midst of everything, we still believe God,” he said.

Near the back of the church building, charred Bible lessons were scattered in the grass and covered in dirt. Many of the books were sopping wet because of the water used to fight the blaze.

But one book near the top of the pile was open to a page with a poem that expresses the hope many in the church’s congregation are clinging to.

“So take courage, you’re going to make it,” it read. “Be faithful to the Lord. Don’t worry one bit.”

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