On Thursday, Fred Tookes’s church on Broad Street between Oxford and Jefferson suffered a three-alarm fire that burned through the building, shut down part of North Broad Street and caused evacuations on surrounding streets.
Few things were preserved from the fire, one of them being a sign bearing the church’s name: The Original Apostolic Faith Church of the Lord Jesus Christ, Inc. It was a miracle from God, Tookes said.
“God preserved the sign, and that’s incredible,” said Tookes, the eldest son of the church’s late pastor Ernest Tookes. “Everybody really thought that was a miracle.”
The building, placed on the Philadelphia Register of Historic Places in November 1985, will be rebuilt, amid an outpouring of love and support from the community, Tookes said.
Members of the church’s community are “heartbroken” over the fire, where some have been worshipping for decades, Tookes said.
“It seemed too surreal,” said John Gale, 35, who has been a congregant of the church since he was 8 years old. “It’s sad, because I have a lot of memories at that church. I’ve been brought up basically in that church. You’re talking over 20 years of going to the same place, same walls, same door entrance.”
Tookes said in the immediate days following the fire, he received calls from local clergy offering donations and worship space, like from Holy Ghost Headquarters at the Met near Broad and Poplar and Congregation Rodeph Shalom near Broad and Spring Garden.
The Rev. Mark Hatcher, pastor at Holy Ghost Headquarters at the Met, saw the fire from his church, but he didn’t know it was The Original Apostolic Faith Church of the Lord Jesus Christ, Inc. until he turned on his car radio.
He said he wanted to help out, because Tookes is a long-time friend of his. He offered resources and worship space.
“It was only right for me to go and embrace [Tookes],” Hatcher said. “That’s why I actually reached out to him, and let him know whatever we can do.”
“You’re talking about a ministry that has been in the community for over 40 years,” he added. “I want to see them rebuild and still play an active part in this community.”
Tookes said he is now focused on the investigation of the fire.
“The family and the church is heartbroken,” Tookes said. “We just want to know what happened when we left there Tuesday evening. Everything was fine, everything was locked up.”
The Fire Department was dispatched to the church at 2:27 p.m. on Thursday, with reports of a building fire. About 120 fire personnel responded, and at times were forced to fight the fire from the outside, as the fire’s temperature grew too high.
A spokesperson from the Fire Department said the building has been deemed unstable, and if necessary repairs are not made, it will need to be demolished. On Saturday, The Department of Licenses and Inspections fenced in the site for safety purposes.
Officials from the Fire Department, the Department of Licenses & Inspections and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives have been present at the scene to determine the cause and origin of the fire. The Bureau responds when sensitive places, like churches, are damaged to determine if arson occurred.
“We didn’t burn ourselves out,” Tookes said. “We talked to the investigators, and they said our family was never under investigation, because there was no one in the building.”
In addition to the serious exterior and interior damage, Tookes said both of the parish’s pulpits were also lost in the fire.
“We’re just waiting on the investigation,” Tookes said. “And whichever way it goes, we want to stay there. We’ve been there since 1979, and we feel as though we are a part of history.”
CORRECTION: A cutline for a photo in a previous version of this article misstated who is in the photos that Fred Tookes is holding. Tookes’ late father, pastor Ernest Tookes, and Bishop S. C. Johnson, who founded the Apostolic Faith Church, are pictured.