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Sale of Christ Institution Baptist Church building in limbo after fire, pastor says

A fire goes to two alarms at the vacant Christ Institution Baptist Church at 704 Ensor St, an historic structure for the African American community.

Plans to sell a historic but long-vacant church in East Baltimore are in limbo days after a fire damaged the building, the church’s pastor said Sunday.

Although Christ Institution Baptist Church — in the 700 block of Ensor St. — wasn’t occupied at the time of the fire Friday and had been up for sale for a year, congregants of the church are awaiting the results of the fire department’s investigation into the cause of the fire, the Rev. Jo Farley said.

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“We’re just hoping that this will be done so we can continue with our work,” Farley said.

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Farley said the news of the fire was a distressing experience.

“It was kind of hard,” Farley said. “I felt like I was having an out-of-body experience. I could hardly catch my breath. We had many beautiful memories there.”

According to Farley, the church started offering services in a space in downtown Baltimore in early December after operating out of the homes of members for the better part of the year.

The church has a history that dates to 1895, and it once served as a combination church, hospital and medical school.

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A historic but long vacant church in East Baltimore caught fire Friday evening. Firefighters were called to the 700 block of Ensor St. to the former Christ Institution Baptist Church.

In the early 1900s, its founder, Dr. George Kennard, conducted healing services that drew both blacks and whites to the congregation, according to published reports at the time.

In 1902, The Afro called it “a peculiar Baltimore institution that is doing good.”

Earlier this year, the building on Ensor Street was listed for $275,000. The asking price was lowered this fall to $90,000 — before the fire struck.

“We’ve reduced the price so much because of the condition,” said Tiffany Domneys, a real estate agent with ExecuHome Realty.

There’s a chance the price could drop further. Domneys said the owners were in negotiations to get the building under contract before the fire.

“Whoever buys it, we think they’re going to have to be the ones that rebuild this,” Domneys said.

In the early 1900s black and white, young and old and the sick of Baltimore crowded into the Christ Institution on Ensor Street on Sunday nights, ready to be cured by the church’s founder, Dr. George Kennard.

In the meantime, the members of the church continue to operate out of its current location — a 25-foot-by-25-foot mixed-used space on Redwood Street.

“It’s a beautiful room,” Farley said, shortly after Sunday’s service. “We’re going to say it’s permanent for now.”

Despite the latest setback, Farley said the congregation is in good spirits.

“We just took a group picture that we are going to put on Facebook,” she said. “We came in lively and giving praise. We’re looking forward to a bright future in 2019.”

Baltimore Sun reporter Sarah Meehan contributed to this article.

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