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"I cried for about three hours" | 168-year-old Orleans Church needs restoration after fire

The Austerlitz Street Baptist Church in Uptown New Orleans must be restored after it was heavily damaged by a fire.

NEW ORLEANS — The Austerlitz Street Baptist Church in Uptown New Orleans would typically have a full sanctuary on a Sunday morning, but instead of preaching this Sunday, the pastor was cleaning up. A fire broke out at the 168-year-old church Friday morning.

Last Sunday, five days before the fire, Pastor Sherman Washington preached about problems and trials serving as tests.

"I don't care what you're going through. I don't care what you're up against. Whatever you're going through is only a test," he said last Sunday while delivering his message. "I'm so glad that trouble... it don't last always. I thank God for that."

He didn't realize at the time he would need to hear that message himself just days later.

"I always say I hope I reach someone, I didn't realize I’d have to depend on that sermon myself to keep my spirits and my hopes up," Washington said Sunday inside his church that's partially in ashes.

Instead of showing up to church Sunday in a suit, he wore rubber boots and a t-shirt, ready to spend the day cleaning up.

"This is my office where it started from," he said.

A NOFD spokesperson said two people say a fireball come from a pipe when they turned the lights on. 22 NOFD units responded to put out the fire.

"Don't know exactly what happened," Washington said.

He showed the extensive damage the fire caused. Flames spread through the attic, stained glass windows busted, and the carpet was left with water damage. It's since been ripped out.

"I went home, I cried for about three hours and after I cried, it was like a funeral for the church then God spoke to my heart and now it's time to restore it," Washington said.

The church just got a new roof three weeks ago due to Ida damage. Insurance only partially helped.

"We had to put a $90,000 roof up with church funds," he said.

Washington has served as the pastor of three years.

"The first year was the pandemic. The second year was the storm and this year it was the fire," Washington said.

He grew up attending the church as his grandfather and uncle also served as pastors there.

"I sat in this office 50 years ago when my grandfather was the pastor and most young men grow up wanting to be a doctor, a lawyer, or airline pilot. I wanted to be a pastor like my grandfather and God allowed me to pastor this great church. I'm sorry right now it just hurts," Washington said. "Now your faith have to come through to show the same God that brought you through the last storm is going to bring you through this storm."

While clean-up and restoration will continue in the main sanctuary, Washington said Sunday church service will resume next Sunday in the fellowship hall.

"We're going to have church in here Sunday morning like we're in the sanctuary," he said.

No one was injured in the fire. It's still unclear how long restoration will take or how much it will cost.

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