A massive fire burned much of Fountain of Life Center in Florence Township, New Jersey, to the ground Monday night (March 20). More than 150 firefighters battled the blaze at the 1,000-member Assemblies of God church, which opened almost 50 years ago. Investigators are still trying to pinpoint the cause of the fire. No injuries were reported.
Church members who gathered at the scene watched as the roof collapsed and smoke filled the skies. They shared their sorrow as well as determination to keep glorifying God.
“It’s a devastating loss,” Senior Pastor Russell Hodgins told reporters. “The church is not brick and mortar, the church is really the body of believers,” he added. “God will help us through this, and I believe the church will be stronger than ever.”
Fountain of Life Center: Firefighters Forced Into Defensive Mode
Although “firefighters did a tremendous job of trying to stop the fire interiorly,” according to fire-district administrator Robert Tharp, Fountain of Life Center’s size and the extent of the flames forced them to switch to “a defensive operation.”
Fountain of Life’s multi-building campus also features Life Center Academy, a private school with about 300 students in pre-K through grade 12. The principal, who was still at the school Monday evening, alerted Pastor Hodgins after seeing smoke near the sanctuary roof. A passerby and some kids playing basketball near the back of the church also reported the fire to officials.
Rev. Matthew Boudwin, the school headmaster as well as the local fire department chaplain, said classes at Life Center Academy are canceled indefinitely. The church auditorium is directly linked to the school, he said, “so hopefully that isn’t affected.”
Boudwin, whose grandparents helped build Fountain of Life, says “This church is everything to me, everything to a lot of people.”
God Will ‘Make Beauty From the Ashes’
On social media, congregants shared memories of worshiping at the church and resolved to rebuild. Although she said her church family is “devastated,” Rebecca Gonzalez-Nazario wrote on Facebook: “We know that our God is on the scene ready to make beauty from the ashes. Nothing is lost in the hands of God. He will restore and make new!”
Shaina Rose Ciaccio, a former pastoral intern at Fountain of Life, wrote about the mentoring and spiritual growth she experienced at the church. “I realize I am reminiscing not on the sanctuary, but on the people who have believed in me, cared for our family, and loved us well,” she wrote. “I am remembering how God has moved and will continue to move, and refuses to be confined by man-made walls. The building is gone, but the people remain. It reminds me that among the wreckage, the Church still stands.”