‘It hurts’: pastor shares heartbreak after fire damages church on Indy’s near northwest side

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INDIANAPOLIS – Officials are investigating an overnight fire that damaged a church on the city’s near northwest side.

Firefighters were called to the Greater Zion Fellowship Community Church on the 2400 block of North Harding Street just after 11 p.m. Thursday.

According to the Indianapolis Fire Department, firefighters arrived to find heavy fire coming from the building. As they worked to get the fire under control, IFD said multiple walls of the church collapsed. The fire was reportedly under control just before 12:30 a.m. Friday.

No injuries were reported to any firefighters or civilians during the incident. Bishop Tyreese Bowman, a senior pastor at the church, said he is heartbroken by what happened.

“It hurts my heart. It hurts,” he said.

According to property records, the structure was built in 1905. It was approaching 116 years since its origin. In 2018, Bowman said they purchased the building. Over the past two years, he said they have worked to give the community back a place so many called home.

He said the goal was to not only rebuild the church itself, but also the community center, an effort to reach the youth and members in the community both physically and spiritually.

“We were able to go in and do a total rehab of the structure and the property, to the gym and the fellowship hall, the library, classrooms, and rec. center,” he said.

Bowman said they wanted to show the community they could take a property that sat vacant for more than 21 years and revitalize it.

“Taking that property that’s vacant and that diamond in the rough and you know, bringing life back to it.”

Bowman said the church helps feed residents in the community in need, helps with rental or housing assistance, and anything they can offer when it is needed.

“We’re a non-denominational church. We’re open to all and giving the community the ability to come back to this home they’ve missed for so long,” said Bowman. “Just turning around and seeing the church in this state, it hurts my heart.”

He said the church holds sentimental value to his family.

“Our church family has put countless hours in. Myself personally, I’ve put over 3,000 hours in the church within the last two years,” said Bowman. “It unified our church family. It gave our community a place to come.”

“We know that the church is the physical building and we are the church ourselves, but this is our gathering place,” said Bowman. “This is our place that we can come broken, battered abused and all and be healed and can walk whole again.”

Neighbors told CBS4 the church has been a staple in the community for many years.

Gregory Walston said he couldn’t believe what he saw Thursday night when the church was on fire. “This church has been such a good thing to the community,” he said. “To see it up in flames like that it was just… it was unbelievable.”

Photo courtesy: Gregory Walston

He said one of the most difficult parts of seeing a spot so many have called a second home be destroyed, is the reaction from his community.

“It was people walking from two or three blocks down, seeing the flames, people with babies who had been in the neighborhood for years and years,” he said. “It was just emotional. People crying. A lot of hugs.”

“You saw the flames rolling across,” said neighbor Regina Brown, who spent many years as a young girl at the church. “It was rolling real fast. Spreading real fast.”

“It’s sad to see. Very sad,” she said. “You can always replace a building, but you can never replace a person.”

On the outside of one of the building’s windows is an image of praying hands. It was one of the few windows not destroyed in the blaze.

“That’s a sign from God and where those hands are that’s where my office is located and for the simple fact that with all the flames and everything that occurred this morning – that lets us know that God is still in control.”

Bowman said they will rebuild and come back as strong as ever to continue helping the community.

“This is a lot of love that’s gone into this building and hey, it’s a hard hit. But we have to understand sometimes love hurts. We’re gonna keep on loving.”

The cause of the fire remains under investigation.

There are about 70 parishioners at the church led by Pastor Bowman. Services have been online since June, and the last time anyone was in the church was on Nov. 21, five days before the fire happened.

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