UPPER CHICHESTER, Pa. (CBS) – Just one day after worshippers gathered to celebrate Easter at the historic Memorial Presbyterian Church in Upper Chichester, it went up in flames around 8:30 Monday morning with no one inside.
“It’s sad. It’s been a lighthouse in the community,” said Benjamin Jones, the church’s organist.
Jones says he has been a member of the congregation for 67 years and lives just a few houses away from the church on the 3200 block of Chichester Avenue.
“I blinked and an explosion of flames just ripped up the back,” he said.
Ogden Fire Chief Craig Small says about 100 firefighters raced to the scene. It took them about two hours to get the two-alarm blaze under control; at one point, he almost had to pull crews out due to poor visibility.
“It’s 1885, how old it is. You’re talking heavy timber construction, wood, wide open space, great grounds for a fire to grow,” Small told Eyewitness News.
Those flames charred much of the back of the church and the same altar at which Reverend Robert Kaufman stood during his Easter sermon, in which he referenced a specific hymn.
“The songwriter saw a church that had been demolished but on top of that church was a cross that was standing. Little did we know that would be our church today. Our church is not demolished but the cross stands firm,” Kaufman said.
Kaufman says from the debris, a firefighter pulled out a processional cross that holds a lot of personal meaning.
“A firefighter brought that cross out to me all blackened from the smoke but it’s in perfect condition. It’s a word from the Lord: We will rise again,” Kaufman said.
Now church members are focused on restoring this historic building.
They’re undeterred by flames because of their faith.
“I was devastated when I saw the condition of the building, but you know what yesterday was Resurrection Sunday and there’s a new day coming for Memorial Presbyterian Church,” he said.
Church members say they did recently install two new heaters. However, the official cause of the fire is still under investigation. Authorities say they have no reason to believe it is suspicious.