ELIZABETH, N.J. (CBSNewYork) — A church in New Jersey went up in flames just hours before Sunday services were set to begin.
The house of worship been a pillar in the community for years with its outreach programs for the homeless, including a popular soup kitchen.
“I was up actually pretty early. I was up around 5 a.m., and my mom she said, ‘The church is on fire.’ I couldn’t believe it. I rushed up here and watched the whole place smolder,” witness Robert Ingram told CBS2’s Tara Jakeway.
Ingram watched as the Shiloh Baptist Church filled with intense flames. Smoke poured onto Murray Street and enveloped the place he called his second home.
By 3 a.m., more than 100 firefighters battled the what was initially a 4-alarm inferno that quickly engulfed the historic building. They managed to extinguish the flames and search the burned facade. Luckily, no one was inside.
“It’s always sad when you see a church have a fire in it. It’s devastating to the church community,” Elizabeth Fire Chief Thomas McNamara said.
Later in the morning, the head of the Shiloh Baptist community stood in front of his house of worship, which was in ruins.
“I’m shocked and sad, but still faithful. Our trust in God is not shaken,” Pastor William Ingram said. “This church has been here over a century, I’ve been here a quarter-century, and I know God is able to overcome this.”
William Ingram has been with the church for nearly a quarter century. From the ashes of his pulpit he preached to his parish.
“I want to tell them to trust in God because he is able to overcome all kinds of situations,” William Ingram said.
Crazy fire next to the apartment broke out in Elizabeth NJ – this was after it calmed down a bit – escaped back to Staten for the night so we could breathe 🙏🏼 prayers up – Shiloh Baptist Church 🙏🏼 #fouralarm #elizabeth #nj pic.twitter.com/V2asuizs4O
— JLeftyArt (@JLeftyArt) February 16, 2020
Robert Ingram, the pastor’s son, said he found strength in those words after witnessing so many milestones inside those walls.
“I’m excited to see what God will bring from this,” Robert Ingram said.
In the meantime, this Sunday brought one saving grace — no first responders or civilians were injured.
The pastor of Shiloh Baptist Church told Jakeway that the fire will not stop his congregation from giving back to the community. They will have their soup kitchen that they have twice a month at a different location.
Officials said the cause of the fire is still under investigation.
A GoFundMe account has been set up to help the church recover. To help, see www.gofundme.com.