A layer of soot coated the sanctuary Monday afternoon as Steven Conner, lead pastor at Taylor Chapel United Methodist Church, looked over the aftermath of an early-morning fire.
Everything was blackened and charred: the pews, the organ, the steeply pitched ceiling, even the curly-haired baby Jesus in the Nativity scene. Despite all the damage, Conner still managed to find meaning.
"The Nativity crèche up there, it was scarred, it was burnt, but the story still lives," he said. "The story of what that represents is not doused by a fire."
Conner and his congregation were trying to pick up the pieces Monday after a fire erupted in the sanctuary of the church at 10145 Maysville Road, near Interstate 469, in northeast Fort Wayne. The cause of the blaze is under investigation, the city fire department said.
The congregation's history dates to the 1860s, and church itself has been at the site since 1962, the year construction of the sanctuary began, Conner said. In subsequent decades, the church was expanded to include a gym and preschool.
The church has about 300 members and their response to the fire has been "concern, support, encouragement, prayers, grief," Conner said.
"My most immediate concern is for this congregation in terms of not our future but their story," he said. "That sanctuary represents significant life, community impact since 1962, so there's a real grief aspect to this type of thing."
A fire alarm sent firefighters to the church at 12:39 a.m., and they arrived seven minutes later, the department said. Flames burned through the roof of the sanctuary, and heavy smoke clouded the church.
Firefighters kept the flames from spreading beyond the sanctuary, and they brought the blaze under control in less than an hour.
Two firefighters suffered minor injuries, and one of them was taken to a hospital to be evaluated, the department said.
A round, stained-glass window near the peak of the roof was lost in the fire. The window had been dedicated to a late longtime member of the church, Conner said.
"That had great meaning to the congregation, but, you know, everything in there can be replaced," he said, adding that he did not have an estimate on the the damage.
Conner was optimistic that, aside from the sanctuary, the rest of the building could be used in a week or two. He said the church hopes conduct a service at 10 a.m. Sunday in the family life center.
"The church is not a building. It is the people," he said. "And people have a way of rallying through this kind of thing."