A fire broke out Sunday afternoon at the Free Methodist Church in East Williamson, a subsection of Rochester, New York. Though the cause is still under investigation, the pastor believes the ignition was related to the electronics in the church’s kitchen. And while the church building suffered damage from the fire, the Rochester congregation was spared, as the response team ended the blaze without fatalities.
The fire began in the early afternoon, just hours after the church finished its Sunday morning service. The fire started in the front of the church, spreading to the kitchen and the children’s play area. Aaron Gardner, who lives just across the street from the church, was one of the first to notice the smoke coming from the building and contacted local fire departments. Gardner and his family are members of the church congregation, and admitted they were “pretty upset” at the sight of their place of worship engulfed in flames.
Five different fire departments responded to the blaze, as the congregation and its pastor stood by helplessly. The pastor, Senior Pastor Ted Smith, said he saw the flames coming from the building and drove to the church as soon as possible. And while he is upset about the water and smoke damage done to most of the church, as well as the destruction of the kitchen and children’s play area, what is really painful to the pastor was the loss of what was inside the church. The kitchen contained care packages for the needy that were destroyed by the flames, which could have left several families without the church’s aid this month. According to the pastor, one volunteer was wrapping those packages just 30 minutes before the fire started. While pretty significant items were destroyed in the fire at the Rochester Church, the ministry considers itself lucky that it ended without fatalities.
The church fire was not the first one the city has had to endure over recent years. In 2011, the Greater Bethesda Church of God in Christ had a fire start in its basement, causing significant damage to the building. The Rochester Fire Department responded to the early morning call and took about an hour to extinguish the blaze. Like the fire at Free Methodist, the cause of the fire was believed to have been electrical. No deaths were reported in this incident as well, as the bishop and many members of the congregation only learned about the fire after watching the local news. What really hurt the members was the relocation of the services away from the building, the first time it happened in over 30 years.
Pastor Smith says he is still planning on holding a service for the Free Methodist congregation next Sunday, but is still trying to determine where and when. The pastor said there has been a ministry on the street corner for a long time, and “a fire isn’t going to stop that.” The church has received an outpouring of gifts from the local community in response to the fire, as food donations have already made up for the care packages lost in the fire. The East Williamson Fire Department, having done more than enough to end the fire without fatalities, did one better and offered their Fire Hall to the Rochester Church for Sunday’s service.
By Jonathan Gardner