A contractor works near a portion of the collapsed roof at Travis Park Church. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

More than 100 people gathered at Travis Park on Sunday morning, settling on metal folding chairs and camp chairs. It was time for Travis Park Church’s Sunday service to begin. 

Eric Vogt, head pastor of Travis Park Church, bounced up to the front of the crowd after the band performed a few songs. 

“It’s so good to be with you in the house of the Lord,” Vogt said to the crowd. “If you don’t know why we’re out here, we had a little roof collapse in the building behind the organ Thursday night in the storm. But you know what? God is our shelter in the storm. We’re going to come and worship. We’re going to continue to serve meals, and we’re going to continue to do what the church is called to do.”

A Sunday service is held at Travis Park because of damage to the roof of part of Travis Park Church.

Late Thursday night, the roof of Travis Park Church’s youth building collapsed after a large thunderstorm. The collapsed roof snapped a fire sprinkler line, which flooded the rest of the church, said Brock Curry, chair of the church council, which oversees the congregation. Nobody was injured in the collapse; there was only a nighttime security guard onsite, he added.

Curry arrived at Travis Park Church at 1 a.m. Friday to the sight of water flowing down the stairs inside. Firefighters had responded to the scene when the fire alarm was triggered, he said.

Water flowed from the top floor all the way down to the ground floor and church offices in the basement. The sanctuary escaped mostly unscathed, except for some wet carpet, Associate Pastor Gavin Rogers said. The visible part of the organ inside the sanctuary also appeared unaffected, though the organ bellows – which deliver air to instrument’s pipes – are housed in the building where the roof collapsed, Rogers added.

The affected building was first constructed in the early 1900s, and the church had long discussed redeveloping the buildings surrounding the main sanctuary. The area with the collapsed roof had been unused for several months after church council members noticed the roof was sagging, Curry said.

“The storm was the straw that broke the camel’s back,” Curry said.

Before the storm, the church already noticed water pooling on the youth building roof and a split in the wooden framework holding up the ceiling, Curry said. The church asked engineers to look at the youth building and decide how to move forward with renovations, but the engineers needed the drop-down ceilings gone. In order to remove those, the church first had to address the asbestos in the building, according to Travis Park Church.

“Last week, as we were beginning to abate the asbestos, a large portion of the plaster ceiling in the Youth Center fell to the floor,” Curry said in a church statement posted online. “The asbestos abatement stopped until we could ensure the safety of the building. Before we could shore up the ceiling, we had some of the heaviest rain we’ve had in a while leading to the recent collapse.”

Contractors work in the area of the collapsed roof.

The church had already moved all youth activities to a different part of the building earlier this year and stopped allowing people to move through the youth building freely. The church also made sure asylum-seekers were housed in a different area.

Travis Park Church provided overnight shelter for migrants when the city saw a spike in asylum-seekers passing through San Antonio before going to their final destinations. The church has not housed any asylum-seekers in recent days as the number of migrants passing through has declined.

Though the church has explored various redevelopment ideas, demolishing the youth building was not one of them, Curry added.

“This was definitely not planned,” he said. “We had no intention of removing any part of that building. The plan right now is to get it secure, safe, water-tight, and give us some time to figure out what our next step is.”

As of Sunday morning, workers were still excavating the rubble from the collapsed building. Large industrial fans were still scattered around the building; workers first brought them in on Friday morning. Contractors are focused on drying out the building and treating it for mold, according to Travis Park Church.

The church is still unsure how much repairs will cost and what will be covered by insurance, Rogers said.

On Sunday, however, the mood was upbeat. Bill Miller Bar-B-Q donated 600 tacos to serve at the church’s Corazon Ministries pre-service breakfast for homeless San Antonians, Rogers said. At the 9:45 a.m. service, churchgoers clapped and sang along to worship songs. Mayor Ron Nirenberg also attended the service on Sunday, addressing the crowd before the sermon.

“The other night was a pretty difficult night for Travis Park Church, but the night is darkest before the dawn, and it is the dawn in San Antonio,” Nirenberg said.

(From left) Mayor Ron Nirenberg and Travis Park Church Head Pastor Eric Vogt

He praised the church for its willingness to help San Antonio’s vulnerable populations, including housing asylum-seekers passing through San Antonio.

“It seems like whenever the city is in need, Travis Park Church has always stepped up,” Nirenberg said. “Your city will step up for you. So I’m so glad to be here to witness what truly is the fabric of San Antonio come together. We’ll be here for you, we have your back, and let the sun shine.”

Services will soon return to Travis Park Church’s sanctuary, said Curry, though he’s not sure when.

“Worst case: We’re probably not going to be able to worship in the sanctuary for at least next week, and maybe two or three more Sundays,” Curry said. “We’ve had a number of churches from all affiliations offer us their space to worship. We will be somewhere next week, at some time, we just don’t know when. We’ve been very fortunate and we are very grateful for the outreach of those other churches who have offered their space and their support.”

The church’s downtown outreach ministry will also continue in some capacity, Curry said. People gather several times a week through Corazon Ministries; the program provides hot meals several times a week along with other services and Bible studies.

“I am not exactly sure what is going to happen in the short term with that, but we are committed to continuing to do that as best as we can,” Curry said.

But first, workers must finish demolishing the roof and removing the debris, Curry said.

“Hopefully, if everything goes as we think it will, that will secure the building enough for us to catch our breath and be able to approach whatever the next step is more systematically,” he said.

People who wish to donate toward Travis Park Church’s repair costs can do so online here.

Jackie Wang covered local government for the San Antonio Report.