Suspected arson at San Francisco church shutters shelter on Good Friday

Tara Campbell Image
Saturday, March 30, 2024
Suspected arson at SF church shutters shelter on Good Friday
The search is on for a suspect in what's expected to be an arson that happened early Friday at John the Evangelist Episcopal church in San Francisco.

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- The search is on for a suspect in what's expected to be an arson that happened early Friday morning at an historic church in San Francisco's Mission District.

Parishioners and people staying the church's shelter were forced outside into the wintry weather as work began to make sure some of the city's most vulnerable don't get left out in the cold.

"Well, the fire started on the outside of the church - the person put cardboard that was on fire and watched this wall go up in flames," said Rev. Kevin Deal of St. John the Evangelist Episcopal. "The fire department responded extremely quickly and said to me many times that they were very careful not to damage the organ, which we were so grateful for because this thing is a treasure."

MORE: Oakland synagogue hosts congregation from FAME church destroyed by fire

Rev. Deal raced to the scent of the fire Friday, which was called in around 2:30 a.m. "There were fire trucks all up and down Julian, and the big ladder over the church and water flowing through the streets and it smelled like fire, and so I thought the church was done for, the church building," noting the damage meant they couldn't open the daytime shelter.

"We were able to put tents up outside, our folks came in and as shocked as we were our folks were equally shocked," said Lydia Bransten, executive director of The Gubbio Project, the nonprofit operating shelter and other services out of the church.

"People know they can come here at 7 o'clock in the morning, they can sleep until 2 o'clock, they can have a cup of coffee," she said. "This is a safe place for them, to have your safe place be affected by something like a fire is jarring for everybody."

MORE: FAME Oakland church leaders work to reestablish feeding ministry after fire

And as for the weekend's Easter services, the reverend said they've been given the go ahead by the fire department, and the shelter will also likely open back up Tuesday -- but that could be short-lived.

"The future holds construction," said Bransten. "There will be the question of how we can do our services, especially sleep, while the church is under construction."

Meanwhile they are starting to collect donations in hopes of starting repairs quickly, and they have a message for the people they're serving: "Regardless of this tragic fire, and regardless of the work that needs to be done," said Bransten. "We are going to be here to serve the community regardless and we are going to come at it with love like we always have."

Now Streaming 24/7 Click Here

If you're on the ABC7 News app, click here to watch live