Church destroyed by fire holds Sunday service in parking lot

Members use faith, community to find strength after tragedy


SAN ANTONIO – Just a week after the New Jerusalem Baptist Church on the Southeast Side burned to the ground, the congregation held its first Sunday service in front of the devastation.

Church choir member Odessa Emerson said when she saw the fire on the news, she ran to the church she'd been going to for 12 years.

"It was unexplainable," she said. "I just could not digest that. I still really haven't faced reality because it's just such a tragedy."

Yet more than 100 people gathered in the church's parking lot for Sunday services. The message was rising from the ashes.

"A lot of hard work, a lot of hard labor, hard work that went into something (that) was lost but there's something good again that is going to come out of the ashes. That's what we believe and that's what we will hold onto," said Pastor Jeffrey Garner.

Garner said his tears are happy ones, brought on by his community's love and faith.

"The emotion is through our faith. All we have is our faith," Garner said.

"It feels like the wind's been knocked out of you and it's hard to come from it, but we're a resilient family. We're strong and we rely on our faith. Our faith is going to get us through this," said church member Jackie Sattiewhite.

"We're not giving up," Odessa Emerson said. "We might be down but we're not going to stay down. We're going to rise again, with the help of the Lord."

So through loss comes a second chance, another way, another perspective and the strength to start all over again.

San Antonio fire investigators still don't know what caused the fire Monday. Members tell us it started in the choir room. Garner said he has not decided yet whether the church will rebuild on the same grounds or relocate.

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