On March 20, at 6 p.m. the fire alarm started sounding at the Fountain of Life Center (AG). Even though the Burlington, New Jersey, fire department dispatched to the scene quickly, within just a few hours, the 70,000-square-foot sanctuary was little more than a pile of smoldering ruins.
“My heart is just truly broken thinking about this,” says Ruben A. Ramos, executive pastor for Fountain of Life. “And that’s true for the entirety of our pastoral staff, church staff, and entire congregation.”
Ramos says that 11-alarm fire was intense, resulting in dozens of emergency vehicles on site. Officials believe the fire originated behind and above the auditorium stage between the sanctuary ceiling and the rafters — possibly the most difficult place for firefighters to access.
“We are so thankful that no one, including first responders, was hurt in the fire and that all of our staff made it out safely,” Ramos says. “No one was in the church building at the time, but we had some teachers and administration still working in the school who called the fire in.”
Ramos credits firefighter Chris Cave, who attended the church and the school, for saving the attached K-12 school.
“He had the foresight to create a barrier by drilling into the ceiling that links the church to the school and position a fire-resistant shield into that space to prevent the fire from spreading to the school,” says Ramos.
The church, led by lead pastor Russ Hodgins, averages about 1,000 in attendance on Sunday services, with the sanctuary being built in 1975. The school is home to just over 200 students.
“The superintendent of Burlington Township schools put the call out to all schools in the district to help find space for the students until the utilities can be reestablished to our school,” Ramos says. “They also offered their performing arts center for us to host church in through Easter, which is when we hope to have utilities again.”
The church has a large Life Center facility on campus, separate from the main sanctuary, and is currently home to basketball courts, an indoor soccer field, and their youth services. Once utilities are available, Ramos says that the plan is to hold services in the Life Center until a new sanctuary can be built.
“The church community is rallying behind us, praying for us,” Ramos says. “The different text messages we’ve been getting, the community, different churches reaching out to us in support — all have been so incredibly helpful. And our district office, we’re so grateful for them, I can’t say enough about them — they’ve been the hands and feet of Jesus through all of this.”
Ramos says that despite the loss of the sanctuary, hope still abounds within the body of believers.
“We are grieving, lamenting, but holding onto the fact that God is going to do something incredible through this place,” he says. “I’m expecting revival to come out of this tragedy.”