Clinton AG Burns, Portions Spared
The sanctuary and some of the Clinton Assembly of God offices in Clinton, Illinois, are nothing but a pile of rubble and ashes after a fire broke out Tuesday morning and quickly engulfed the building.
The Clinton Fire Department posted a summary of the response and results on Facebook, noting that they dispatched for a first alarm at 8:19 a.m., however the fire reached a fourth alarm, with assistance being brought in from 14 neighboring communities. Crews didn’t depart until 3:47 p.m.
Nick Blacklidge, who leads the church with his wife, Jenessa, has been senior pastor since 2018. Prior to that he served at the church as youth pastor for six years. Blacklidge explains that the fire was so hot and burned for so long, that it’s likely the cause will never be determined, but arson is not suspected.
Although the sanctuary was lost, Blacklidge says that the adjoining gymnasium, youth chapel, kitchen, and some offices were spared. Fire fighters brought in a frontend loader to knock down a portion of the sanctuary to help keep the flames from spreading.
“What’s remarkable is that the fire went right up to a janitors closet that was filled with [flammable] chemicals,” Blacklidge says. “The only thing between the fire and those chemicals was drywall. The fire chief said there’s no reason why this fire shouldn’t have gone into the rest of the building.”
Blacklidge notes that the water fountains outside of the janitors closet melted like wax from the heat of the fire on the other side of the drywall. He says that if the fire had spread, a trailer park that begins right behind the church’s gymnasium would have been at risk as well.
Despite the loss of the nearly 50-year-old structure and the tears shed, Blacklidge and the congregation are looking to the future. In a Facebook Live post, he noted how God walked through the fire with Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego and that He would walk with them through this.
“Since the quarantine, we’ve been talking about how the church isn’t a building, it’s God’s people,” Blacklidge says. “As a pastor, one of the neatest things to see following the fire was people posting ‘the church isn’t a building’ everywhere online.”
The community’s response to the fire has been overwhelming, with community members, church members, AG churches, and non-AG churches all reaching out to offer assistance. Even during the fire, the compassion of people offering aid to fire fighters and the church was ongoing.
This Sunday the congregation of about 110 will be meeting on the front lawn under a tent, with plans to be gathering at an offered facility the following weeks.
“Last Sunday was the first Sunday back in church, we’re not going to miss another Sunday,” Blacklidge affirms.
Currently, insurance estimates are being gathered and a meeting to begin discussing a building program has been planned.
“We are going to come out of this stronger, better,” Blacklidge says. “I’m just so excited about what God is going to do.”