Associated Press - July 26, 2010by ENNIFER PELTZ (Associated Press Writer)
Members of Love Gospel Assembly gathered on a sweltering parking lot, instead of their Bronx sanctuary. Though in shock and sorrow, many saw the blaze as a lesson for the inner-city church built on the belief that faith can overcome hardship.
"Though the building may be shut down, we're not shut down," Bishop Ronald L. Bailey, the nondenominational church's senior pastor, said hours after the blaze ripped through parts of the 1921 building, leaving major damage inside.
He and others vowed that the church, known for feeding meals to more than 400 needy people a day, would manage to rebuild. In the meantime, it will adapt: Its soup kitchen will continue with cookouts on the parking lot, Bailey said.
"We live in a negative world, a negative environment, but we serve a positive God," said Bailey, who got a call about the fire while up late working on his Sunday sermon. He raced to the church to find the building in flames.
Firefighters were investigating what caused the four-alarm fire that left five firefighters and three other people with minor injuries. Reported around 1:30 a.m., it took two hours to come under control.
The smell of smoke lingered over the roughly 200 people who clustered for a meeting on the parking lot around 10 a.m., fanning themselves and using umbrellas as sunshades in the roughly 90-degree heat. A sign saying "In God we trust" was propped on the ground nearby.
A formal service was held elsewhere later in the day.
"It's devastating," 36-year member Rosanne Rosado, 56, said as she surveyed the damage. But she was confident the church would manage to recover, "somehow, some way."
The church was founded in 1970 by the late Bishop Gerald Kaufman, a Jewish convert and former homeless heroin addict who credited his sobriety to Christianity, according to his son Josh.
His father's experiences endowed the church with a belief "that anything is possible," Josh Kaufman said, and he and others saw the fire as another opportunity to prove it. The 600-to-800-member church already had been planning a major expansion into property it owns next door.
Love Gospel Assembly moved about 30 years ago into its Grand Concourse building, a former synagogue. The inscription on the facade is from the Old Testament Book of Micah.
Closely tied to its struggling community, the church runs programs ranging from a food pantry to a credit union.
"We're here to help the people who had no hope ... because we're here in the middle of the ghetto," said Ramona Rodriguez, 42, a member for 12 years.
As for the church's damaged home, "our hope is in Christ," she said. "We don't put hope in a building."