Church explosion leaves deacon hospitalized, community without food pantry

FOX 32 NEWS - A community is at a loss after a beloved church building explodes with one of its deacons inside.

He remains hospitalized as of Tuesday night.

People continue to stop by the church and share stories of the impact the church’s food pantry had on them. They’re also sharing prayers for the deacon injured in the blast just minutes before 15 more people were expected inside. 

Rubble is all that is left behind of the annex building at Bethel Congregation Church of God and Christ.

Nearly 24 hours later, the Hammond Fire Department came back to the scene to put out hotspots in the pile. Neighbors can't forget what it looked like when the building on Wilcox and Calumet exploded Monday.

"It was glass everywhere. The guy that was in there, was actually walking out of there. And it was scary,” said neighbor Michelle Curley.

The man she saw was Deacon Craig Williams. The church says he went to the building before choir rehearsal and smelled gas.

“He turned on the light switch and then that's when the explosion happened. So we're just going to keep him up in prayer that he recovers. HIs life is more important than the building at this time,” said Deacon Lester Stokes.

Williams is being treated for second degree burns and is in critical condition.

Meanwhile, residents who depend on the food pantry that was a major part of this building are in disbelief.

"I was looking forward to every first and third Saturday. I look forward to getting the food. So, you know when I come home and seen that, I was like, oh no, God, c'mon now. Why would this happen?" said resident Len Phelps.

Fire investigators are trying to determine what caused the explosion. Until then, the community is without a food pantry just two days before Thanksgiving.

"We really look forward to serving the people and the community and Lake County with the food pantry. Without it, a whole lot of people are going to be without it for the holidays, but what can we do,” Deacon Stokes said.

The church had to cancel a shipment of food that was scheduled to arrive at the church Tuesday. They’re hopeful it will go to another congregation in the area to help feed the community in Hammond.