Coming a mere week prior to their Christmas service, Chance Ministries, 309 N. Cicero Ave., suffered a devastating fire that completely decimated the church on Dec. 18.

“One of the sister’s of the church thought she smelled smoke coming from the church, so she contacted me about it, and I went down,” said Pastor William Martin. “By the time I’d gotten there and entered the premises, the fireproof ceiling was holding up, but everything else was being quickly consumed. I could tell the fire had been burning for a long time.”

The church was only two years old, and was largely built by Reverend Martin himself who had opened up his own business, Martin Construction, 15 years ago, next door to the eventual location of Chance Ministries. The store and the church were both destroyed. However, Rev. Martin considers it a blessing no one was harmed.

“The fire occurred hours before we were scheduled to begin rehearsals for our Christmas musical,” said Martin. “If it had occurred during the rehearsals, it might have been serious injuries to the staff and congregation. The building itself is just masonry and mortar. We can always rebuild.”

In the meantime, while it is still unclear what exactly caused the fire (it began on a Monday before anyone had actually entered the church, perhaps an indication that it was electrical), Rev. Martin has relocated his congregation to the New Bread of Life Church, 5734 W. Division. The pastor there, Rev. Anthony Reed, is the best friend of Rev. Martin, which ironically Rev. Martin helped build two years ago as well.

The congregation is expected to hold services there until the end of January at which time they will move to the Winston Plaza shopping mall in Melrose Park.

“It certainly has been an adjustment for us, driving to a further location and attending service later than usual,” said Oscar Brown, who, along with his wife Lillian, had been members of Chance Ministries for a year. “We attend service after Rev. Reed’s has ended to avoid a conflict. However, the experience has made us much closer as a congregation. We visit each other more often since the fire; we are more like a family now.”

Nevertheless, Brown acknowledges many things were lost in the fire.

“We had gathered coats and presents to give away for a gift drive. It was all lost to the fire,” said Oscar. “We had just built a kitchen for the homeless and were looking forward to the holiday festivities, including the musical that was to follow, but we will rebuild.”

Lillian and Oscar Brown, like Rev. Martin, are business owners. The couple own Lillian’s Shoes & Purses which is five blocks away from the church. They became members of Chance Ministries after Rev. Martin’s daughters entered the store one day and invited them to the church.

“The church was beautiful and the congregation was so friendly,” said Lillian. “I felt at home immediately and really appreciated the work the church was doing feeding homeless people and holding toy drives for children.”

Reverend Martin has not set a definite date to begin the rebuilding process. He was faced with a setback though. The insurance only covered the loan and the mortgage. To rebuild, he may need to apply for a new loan which could be time-consuming.

For information on how you can help assist the effort to rebuild Chance Ministries, call 773/921-HELP.