A blaze ripped through a West Philadelphia church Tuesday, causing devastating damage.
The roof of Greater Bible Way Temple appeared to be completely destroyed by 5 p.m. and huge sections of the church were exposed.
“Our church has gone up in flames,” said Bishop Benjamin Peterson Jr. while surrounded by members of the church on Warren Street.
Peterson said no one was inside the church when the fire broke out.
“Lives have been changed,” he added.
The fire at Greater Bible Way Temple broke out around 2:45 p.m. and portions of the church had collapsed by 4:20 p.m., according to Fire Commissioner Adam Thiel.
The fire reached three alarms by 5 p.m. as crews continued to battle the blaze. Thiel said he expected firefighters to remain on scene overnight.
The church’s lower roof was undergoing a “minor roofing repair” when the fire broke out. Peterson said that might have been the cause of the fire.
Asked if the church would be rebuilt, Peterson said, “We’re not going to stand still. We’re going to do something.”
Cachella Ford-Zongo, a member of the church for 20 years, said she was just married in the church in April. She said church members had a strong sense of community.
“It’s our castle,” Ford-Zongo said as she watched the firefighters work.
“My home — everything is here.”
Bishop Benjamin F. Peterson Sr. and his wife, Mother Estella Peterson, the parents of the current bishop, founded the church in 1956 in South Philadelphia. The church moved in 1971 to a location on Spruce Street then again in 1984 to its current location.
The approximately 500-member church had just wrapped up its summer program and was preparing for an after-school program.
Church leaders have been preparing to celebrate the congregation’s anniversary in September.