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Historic Black church in South Austin damaged in possible arson

The facade of a church with boards covering the front door and two windows.
Patricia Lim
The Goodwill Baptist Church, a historic Black church in Bouldin Creek, was damaged in a fire Monday night. Fire officials suspect arson.

An almost 120-year-old church started by formerly enslaved people is boarded up after being damaged in a fire that officials suspect was caused by arson.

No one was injured in the fire Monday night at Goodwill Baptist Church in the South Austin Bouldin Creek neighborhood.

Kelvin Austin, who has been pastor of the church for almost six years, said he got a call around 11:30 p.m. informing him the building was on fire.

“My first thought was that by the time we got there, the church was going to be totally gone and burned to the ground,” he said.

When he and his wife arrived, the Austin Fire Department had already extinguished the blaze. The kitchen was destroyed and a nearby wall had smoke damage.

Austin praised the quick response by firefighters for the church not being destroyed. He said there's a lot of history attached to the church.

“When the freedmen came out of the fields, they set up that community,” he said. “And the church has been a standing icon in the community for a number of years.”

AFD estimated the fire caused $150,000 in structural damage and $50,000 in damages to its contents.

The pastor said the church was insured and he would be meeting with the insurance company to figure out the next steps.

“For the most part, I'm grateful that things have worked out as well as they have,” he said. “No one was injured, which is the biggest concern that we had.”

Austin said the edifice of the church is considered a crime scene. While the investigation continues and the structure is repaired, the congregation of about 20 mostly seniors will continue to hold services via Zoom and conference calls.

The church is holding a prayer vigil for the community from 9 to 10 on Saturday morning on the church grounds. Anyone with information about the cause of the fire is asked to call 1-877-434-7345.

Sangita Menon is a general assignment reporter for KUT. Got a tip? Email her at Follow her on Twitter @sangitamenon.