Metal scaffolding that fell late Thursday onto a building housing offices and classrooms  at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church downtown caused significant damage to the roof, though the historic church itself remains undamaged, a church leader said. 

Speaking loudly in her pulpit voice over the clanging of demolition equipment on East Martin Street along the north end of the church property, the Rev. Elizabeth Knowlton, the church’s rector, said she was grateful that no one was hurt when the scaffolding fell. 

“I was telling our congregation earlier today, this is just a wonderful reminder that churches are about people and community, they’re not about buildings,” Knowlton told reporters at a media briefing Friday. 

The scaffolding set up on the AT&T building across East Martin Street from the churchfell after heavy thunderstorms that brought gusts of up to 50 miles per hour ripped through San Antonio late Thursday. Meteorologists have tied the storms to tropical depression Imelda, which has caused severe flooding in East Texas. 

The church’s four-story “parish house” dating to the 1920s was the only part of the property, located on the corner of East Pecan and Jefferson streets, to sustain damage, Knowlton said. It houses the church’s offices, classrooms, and choir practice space.

The roughly 160-year-old historic church adjacent to the parish house is unharmed she said, though it remains without cooling after the falling metal crushed the air conditioners on the parish house, damaged the roof, and let water infiltrate the building. 

The church building remains structurally sound, according to a memo shared by City officials, who inspected the site after the collapse. The scaffolding had been erected for work being done on the AT&T building façade under a certificate approved by the City’s Office of Historic Preservation. 

Contractors did not obtain a required commercial minor repair permit, the memo states. However, that permit would not have included any “review or inspection” of the scaffolding to ensure its safety and stability.

“In the State of Texas, it is not required to obtain a permit for scaffolding and the City of San Antonio does not currently regulate it,” the memo states. 

Aside from damaging the church building, the metal collapsed onto multiple vehicles and a VIA Metropolitan Transit bus. Three people sustained minor injuries while running to avoid the falling scaffolding, according to firefighters. 

Knowlton said the St. Mark’s congregation, which numbers about 1,600, is hoping to be able to have a 10 a.m. combined service on Sunday in the church, though many in the local faith community have offered a place for them to meet. Those include Travis Park Church, Temple Beth-El, and Christ Episcopal Church in Monte Vista, she said. 

The church will not be able to hold a concert it had planned for 5 p.m. Sunday as part of its Music from St. Mark’s series because of the lack of air conditioning, she said. 

“The organ is sitting in a nice hot building right now, and it will not be making a joyful noise,” Knowlton said.

Church leaders aren’t sure exactly when the debris will be cleared.

“This could have been much worse, and we are grateful to God that it was not,” Knowlton said. 

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Brendan Gibbons

Brendan Gibbons is a former senior reporter at the San Antonio Report. He is an environmental journalist for Oil & Gas Watch.