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Historic church burns

3-11 alarm fire Love Faith Praise Church God Christ 400 block west 70th street. Friday October 26 2012 | Brian

3-11 alarm fire at the Love Faith and Praise Church of God in Christ in the 400 block of west 70th street. Friday, October 26, 2012 | Brian Jackson~Sun-Times

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Updated: November 28, 2012 6:07AM



The Englewood church has stood for more than 120 years. And within its sanctuary people have prayed, they have celebrated and they have made history.

The red brick building — severely damaged in a raging fire Friday — housed the first Englewood church to be integrated, said the Rev. Gregory S. Hardaway.

In 1957 as the racial makeup of the neighborhood changed, Normal Park Baptist Church merged with Englewood Covenant Church and a black pastor and a white pastor were installed as co-pastors in order to serve the changing community, Hardaway said.

“In the spirit of the merge, they were going to receive the African-Americans as the community changed in demographics,” he said. “They did a magnificent Christian thing by saying they were not going to embrace white flight as other churches in the community were doing. They stayed and received African-Americans.”

A Time magazine write-up marked the occasion, calling it a “milestone.”

Part of that historic site is lost forever.

Fire tore through the church in the 400 block of West 70th Street early Friday, leaving the sanctuary exposed and part of the building totally charred and collapsed. Though much of the stained glass dating back to 1906 was destroyed, the centerpiece Jesus still allows light to shine into the black rubble.

The Chicago Fire Department is investigating the cause of the fire, which did not result in any injuries, officials said.

The church’s history begins in 1886 when Normal Park was organized and first held services in Englewood centers, Hardaway said. In 1887 the lot at 70th and Stewart was purchased for $2,250 and the next year the chapel was dedicated. In 1906 the church built an addition to the building and added the stained glass and a pipe organ, Hardaway said.

In 2003 Normal Park sold the building it had owned since 1887 to Love, Faith and Praise Church of God in Christ, said Hardaway, the pastor of what was called Normal Park Baptist Church and is now called Resurrection Church of Chicago, 10700 S. King Drive.

On Friday morning, the Rev. Ronald Richardson, of Love, Faith and Praise, was in tears as he surveyed the destroyed church.

Richardson was too distraught to speak with reporters, but his family said Richardson was devoted to the church. He and his family had developed the church to be a “safe haven” for children in violence-plagued Englewood, said Richardson’s daughter, Patrice Bolden, 40.

“Dad would walk through the neighborhood trying to get them to come in off the street,” she said.

In the past, the church of about 100 members had offered kids food, access to computers and movie nights, she said.

“This is an area that is in great need,” said the Rev. Lafayette McGary, a family friend and pastor at another church.

The family had also renovated the aging building this year. They had fixed the roof, replaced some windows and doors and added new lavender carpet.

“I have to say this, Reverend Richardson was doing a good job,” Hardaway said. “He was really investing a lot of hard cash … to bring it back to a semblance of what it was.”

Hardaway and his parishioners are also grieving the loss of the church.

“We are impacted by their loss … our footprints are there, our history is there,” he said.

On Friday, the family didn’t know if Sunday service would be held or what the future of the church would be but McGary was clear: “We can’t shut the door to the church.”



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