A journey of hope: East Village Middle Collegiate Church members hold spiritual walk one year after devastating fire

The flames may have destroyed their place of worship, but they have rekindled their spirit of peace and love.

Exactly one year to the day after a fire demolished the sanctuary of Middle Collegiate Church, members of the East Village congregation gathered for a walk to the ashes on Sunday.

Converging at Calvary Episcopal Church, their temporary place of worship since the flames swept away their beloved chapel, on 21st Street and Park Avenue South, the betThe shioners participated in a mass service before heading home.

On December 5, 2020, a devastating six-alarm fire ripped through Middle Collegiate Church above centuries-old walls, sending plumes of black smoke into the air as firefighters tried desperately to smother the inferno, but the fire was too big. Sadly, the church was completely gutted – the grand Gothic-style facade of the place of worship being the only part of the sanctuary that remains standing.

Before departing, church members worshiped together at Calvary Episcopal Church. Photo of Dean Moses
Members of the Middle Collegiate Church took to the streets singing. Photo of Dean Moses

Led by Middle Church spiritual leader Reverend Dr Jacqui Lewis, congregants sat in the pews of Calvary Episcopal Church and reflected on the past year. Lewis became emotional as she watched a video package that showed the path her herd had taken from the start of the fire to this very day a year later. But the congregation not only mourned the physical loss of their chapel, but rather other spiritual pain experienced over the past year – such as the proliferation of anti-Semitism and anti-Asian hate crimes, and efforts to ban abortions in other states.

“Now we’re going to take the pain and the grief, and we’re going to take it down to the streets. We’re going to get up together, we’re going to put on our coats, and we’re going to walk, and we’re going to go down to our church,” said Reverend Dr Lewis.

Reverend Dr Jacqui Lewis sat in prayer on December 5 as she reflected on the past year.Photo of Dean Moses

Beginning a procession through the streets, it was not a march of grief or grief but rather of joy and gratitude for what they still have.

Screaming jubilant hymns and songs of freedom, the group marched proudly toward the East Village. The parade’s musical performance turned heads, garnering warm smiles from passers-by.

The faithful lined the streets. Photo of Dean Moses

“We wonder what we found in the fire? We found community and resistance and resilience and so much support in the fire,” Reverend Dr Lewis told amNewYork Metro as she walked alongside her parishioners. “We haven’t found permanent accommodation yet, so we’re working on it. But we’re going to go see the site and cry together.

Reverend Dr Lewis has expressed her desire to find another place in the East Village area to call home, until then she says she is grateful for everyone who has donated since the fire at middlechurch.org/rising.

Once they arrived at the brick mound where the Middle Collegiate Church once stood in all its glory, the group prayed together and even danced in the afternoon sun.

Reverend Benjamin Perry felt joyful with his flock despite all he had lost. Photo by Dean Moses
The birthday was controlled by the dance. Photo by Dean Moses
Adults and children joined in the singing. Photo by Dean Moses

Martha J. Finley