ELIZABETH, NJ — An early-morning fire ravaged a historic church on Sunday, Feb. 16, leaving the 141-year-old structure a shadow of itself.
The inferno, which was reported to police just after 3 a.m., broke out at the Shiloh Baptist Church at 95 Murray St.
Firefighters arrived within minutes and found the church engulfed in flames. The back of the church collapsed shortly after. Firefighters continued to douse water on the charred structure throughout Sunday morning. In the afternoon, a PSEG crew arrived to repair downed electrical lines in front of the church, while passersby stopped and took photographs.
A GoFundMe page was set up on Sunday evening to help raise funds for rebuilding the church.
“We lost everything in a devastating and tragic fire early this morning at the historic Shiloh Baptist Church in Elizabeth, N.J.,” wrote organizer Robert Ingram on the GoFundMe page. “Instead of waking up and being able to go to church, we woke up to this. Now we’re trying to rebuild.”
Ingram set a fundraising goal of $500,000. By Tuesday evening, 14 donors had given $480. A few supportive comments have also been posted on the page.
“I care,” wrote Scott Lombardi, donating $10. “God bless your congregation as you rebuild,” wrote another user, Joy D. Kay, who donated $20.
Neighboring residents were evacuated from their houses during the fire.
To keep warm, they sat inside a bus provided by NJ Transit until they were cleared to return home at around 6:30 a.m.
No one was inside the church at the time of the fire, and no firefighters were injured at the scene. Sunday morning services scheduled for 11 a.m. were canceled.
Congregants will attend services at the nearby Union Baptist Church until further notice.
On the GoFundMe page, Ingram quoted a few “comforting words” from the church’s pastor: “What we did not and can never lose is our faith, hope and love in God. We are indebted to all of you for the many calls, prayers and presence.”
The church was founded in November 1879, according to its Facebook page. Before the fire, it served as a soup kitchen and hosted clothing drives. The fire is currently under investigation.