Pastor says church will continue without historic building, concerned about loss of holiday donations

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Firefighters are still trying to put out hotspots at a historic church downtown Monday.

Firefighters were called to the Evangelistic Center Church near Truman and Troost around 5:30 a.m., Sunday when a driver passing by noticed the smoke coming from the building. The smoke was so think it caused one lane of Interstate 70 to be closed down between downtown and The Paseo.

As crews worked to put out the flames, members of Evangelistic Center Church took photos and looked at what now remains of the historic church in downtown Kansas City.

Church member Chuck Jones

Church member Chuck Jones

Chuck Jones said he has been attending this church for decades.

"I'm heartbroken because like I said I pretty much grew up in the church. It is kind of like where I learned my faith and remember a lot of friends and people that I knew from then," Jones said. "I'm 60 right now and I started here when I was in my mid-teens. Going to this church when I was probably 13 or 14."

For nearly 60 years, this church held service at 10 o'clock in the morning. This Sunday, the church website issued a warning, telling people not to come and asking for prayer from the congregation.

Firefighters said the blaze began in the back of the building. An explosion caused a partial collapse of the building. A firetruck that was parked inside the collapse range hasn't moved since, and will remain until crews determine that it's safe.

Kansas City Deputy Chief James Garrett said crews entered the burning building, but had to leave as conditions began to change.

"The conditions inside the building change rapidly. We had to exit the structure, and there was an explosion before a collapse. So we had to deal with that in a defensive mode," Garrett explained.

Garrett said the building's age added to the difficulty of putting out this fire.

The city closed the roads around the church as Chuck Jones watched from a distance. When he first heard reports, Jones couldn't believe that the church he had always known was destroyed. He had to come down to the scene to see it with his own eyes.

"As soon as I got down here by about 18th, or even a little bit further away, I could see the smoke coming up. I'm like, 'my God, it's real. It's gone,'" Jones said.

After 60 years, Jones said he's sad to see this chapter come to a close.

Pastor John Crane

Pastor John Crane

Pastor John Crane spoke at a news conference Sunday afternoon.

"This is devastating, but in these kind of times we have to trust in the Lord, and we have to work together as leadership and find ourself another location for a season until we can decide and get all the information of what's going to happen, where we are. But we will go on. We will continue to worship the Lord and we will continue to have a congregation in this city that makes an impact," Crane said.

Crane said the church is more than just a building.

"After sixty plus years in that same location, watching that go, that truth comes to mind. The church is bigger than where we meet. It's the people. It's the people who have given their lives to Christ, who have yielded their lives to know Him and to reflect His love," Crane said. "And so the church is bigger than that, but we're being tested on that."

Crane added that on top of the loss of the building, the fire also claimed all of the donations the church had collected for the upcoming holidays.

The church held a prayer service Sunday evening at Neiman Elementary School in Shawnee.

The church held a prayer service Sunday evening at Neiman Elementary School in Shawnee.

"One of the things we're real concerned about is the outreach that we do. We do outreach with Thanksgiving baskets and Christmas, we help families that are poor. Interestingly enough, we had the whole dining room full of food when we were putting those things together, and all that's gone. And so, we're going to have to really think about how to do that, and we don't know right now," Crane explained.

"We still want to help those families. We don't want those families to go without because they look to us."

Crane said he will be posting information on the church's website as well as its Facebook page for anyone who would like to help donate to the church's holiday outreach.

There are no reports of injuries at this time. Firefighters have not yet determined a cause of the fire. KCPD and ATF are assisting in the investigation.

MoDOT and the battalion chief on the scene Monday were discussing whether to close parts of I-70 so the smoke doesn't impact drivers. As of 8:15 a.m., no decision had been made, but they did put of signs to warn drivers of the smoke. FOX 4 will provide updates as they become available.