“It’s pretty devastating, but God is bigger than any fire,” the Rev. Sue Hutchins told the news media after a three-alarm fire burned through the roof of Hill Top United Methodist Church in Pittsburgh’s Allentown neighborhood.
The blaze, which broke out shortly after 4 p.m., August 28, “was caused by workers who were using propane torches to repair the roof and gutters,”according to a Pittsburgh Public Safety Department news release. “The fire caused heavy damage to the roof structure and extensive water damage to the church and the (Allentown) Senior Citizen Center. A conservative estimate of damages is $1.5 million.”
In addition to providing worship space for the United Methodist congregation and the six-year-old Redeemer on the Mount congregation, the church building, which was dedicated in 1891 as John Wesley Methodist Episcopal Church, houses the senior citizen center. The Senior Center provides lunch and activities for about 40 area residents daily. The church also hosts many community meetings and gatherings.
Both congregations held Aug. 30 worship services at the James J. Barry Funeral Home across the street. The nearby Henry Kauffman Center opened their door to people who normally come to the senior center for lunch and activities.
Hutchins said she was in the parsonage next door when she saw burning material falling from the church roof, where employees from Ripley & Sons Construction Co. were working.
Pittsburgh Fire Chief Darryl Jones said firefighters removed several items of religious importance from the church, including the communion table, a large cross, a lectern, and some ornate chairs. “It’s a small step, considering the amount of damage,” he said.
Jones told reporters he was worried about his firefighters’ safety when he first arrived. He said fires in churches can be very difficult to extinguish because of the vaulted ceilings.
The city Bureau of Building Inspection on Friday determined that the building is sound, except for the brick peak, which will be re-enforced, Hutchins said. A funeral home across the street offered to host Sunday worship services.
“We’ll be all right; we’ll get through it,” said Hutchins, who, with Pastor Matthew Price, serves the South Hills Partnership, which includes Hill Top and five other churches in neighborhoods south of Pittsburgh. After meeting with building inspectors and insurance adjusters, Hutchins said they expect to have the congregation back into the sanctuary by next August and hope to make adjustments so that lower level can be used for worship and by the senior center as soon as possible.
Hutchins said she has had great support from so many and great team work with church members. “District Superintendent Paul Taylor and Bishop Thomas J. Bickerton came to stand with us and pray,” she said the day after the fire. “With God, we've got this!”