Fire Department officials have launched an investigation into a fire that caused approximately $200,000 worth of damage at a historic black church in Austin, Texas.
Goodwill Baptist Church was set on fire during the evening of March 6. The blaze, which investigators say was intentionally set, resulted in approximately $150,000 in structural damage and an additional $50,000 in property loss.
“It’s a tragedy to see that this has happened, but we bless God because we know that he moves in miraculous and strange ways, so we will trust that he will allow us to recover from this,” Goodwill Baptist church Senior pastor Kelvin Austin told Fox 7 Austin.
Austin also spoke with KXAN, noting that he could not imagine who would start the fire.
“I just for the life of me…We’ve never had a cross word with anybody in the community. They’ve always been encouraging…Heartbreaking to know that somebody in this season would do something like that to God’s house,” he said.
“[The fact that] someone would destroy a historical icon that’s been in this community as long as it has been…deeply heartbreaking,” Austin lamented.
According to investigators, the fire started in the church’s fellowship hall and immediately spread into other parts of the building. Minutes later, firefighters arrived on the scene and extinguished the flames.
James Talbot, who lives close to the church, told Austin American-Statesman that he called 911 after he heard a crackling fire sound from inside his home.
“I was screaming,” Talbot said. “I was afraid the big sanctuary would burn up. It would have gone up in a flash.”
Austin Fire Department Division Chief Thayer Smith praised bystanders and firefighters for their quick response to the fire.
“Good response from the citizens getting us notified and good response getting there and a quick knockdown,” Smith said.
Moving forward, Austin told KVUE that the congregation plans to restore the church building, pointing out its “legacy and heritage.”
“It means so much to some of the members. Some of the members grew up in this church,” he said. “I do not want to deter those members from continuing to worship here and to remember those good times they’ve had with family.”
“I do know we serve a God that is able to do all things. That’s why we call him Jehovah-Jireh.”
Austin also says that he will continue to preach to his congregation starting this Sunday.
“When the unexpected shows up, I think that’s the text we’ll be using,” the pastor said. “Spiritually, we’re in good shape … We’re going to be okay.”
Goodwill Baptist Church has about 15 to 20 members and has been a part of the Bouldin Creek Neighborhood in South Austin for nearly 120 years.