Last December 2006, only a week prior to their Christmas service, the congregation of Chance Ministries at 309 N. Cicero suffered a disastrous fire that set much of the church ablaze.
The fire began on the afternoon of Dec. 18, spreading rapidly and engulfing the church and also a construction company next door, both owned by Rev. William Martin, the church’s pastor.
The fire was reportedly caused by an electrical fixture in the ceiling of the church.
At the time, Pastor Martin was devastated by the fire that destroyed the place he had built largely from the ground up only two years prior.
The destruction of his Martin Construction Co. was a double loss.
But Rev. Martin was just thankful that no one was inside the church at the time. The fire began hours before rehearsals for the church’s Christmas musical. Had the fire started later, Martin said, church members could have been injured or killed.
Ever optimistic, he asserted that, “the building itself is just masonry and mortar. We can always rebuild.”
In the year since the fire, the church’s rebuilding is nearly complete, and the congregation will host a re-dedication service on Sunday for the new structure and to pay tribute to the old one.
Rev. Martin’s belief in the church’s resurrection was based both on his biblical teachings and his more than 15 years in construction. Those experiences helped Martin to focus on rebuilding his church.
The financing and rebuilding of a new church would be a slow, costly and time-consuming endeavor. And though the church was insured, the insurance would only cover the loan and the mortgage.
Nevertheless, the church was given its second chance from several neighboring construction and roofing companies that donated equipment and materials.
“The hardest part about the entire process for me was having to ask for assistance,” said Belinda Martin, the pastor’s wife.
“I am used to being in the position to help others. However, we were amazed at the level of assistance we received,” she said. “Chicago Metallic donated walls, Matthew Roofing Co. donated materials for the roof and Home Depot delivered dry wall to us. We were truly blessed and humbled by the strong show of support.”
In the meantime, their church services took place at New Bread of Life Church, 5734 W. Division.
New Bread pastor, the Rev. Anthony Reed, opened his doors to Chance’s congregation, which held their Sunday services after New Bread’s.
“We stayed at New Bread for a little over a month, but then in January we moved services to the Rose Banquet Hall in Melrose Park,” said Mrs. Martin. “We stayed there until about June and then we decided to order tents and conduct service outside under tents over the summer at the location of the fire.”
The Martins would discover that conducting church services outside would unite the congregation and even motivate new members to join.
That unity inspired a more free-spirited atmosphere, they said, and allowed the church to “take their message to the street.”
“It was really relaxed, people who were not ordinarily church-goers were coming inside the tent out of curiosity and just staying because they enjoyed the service so much,” Mrs. Martin said. “Everyone did their part to make it work.”
By the time the weather turned frigid this November, the church’s construction progressed to the point where services could move inside.
The slightly expanded Chance Ministries, originally a store front right off of Lake and Cicero, now has an A-frame roof but still sports its grayish outer facade. Their summer outdoor tent services took place across the street in a large unused parking lot.
The church is 80 percent complete, said Rev. Martin, adding that it was a challenge to rebuild both the church and the construction company, which is still next door, simultaneously.
“We hope to be completely finished in a few weeks,” he said. “There are still more cosmetic things we have to do, like installing floor tiles, light fixtures and carpets. But we have been very blessed by the amount of help we have received from the congregation and construction companies who have donated money, resources and time to the rebuilding effort.”
Terry Dean contributed to this article.