New York’s historic Middle Collegiate Church destroyed in six-alarm fire

NEW YORK (RNS) — An early morning fire Saturday, Dec. 5, in Manhattan’s East Village neighborhood destroyed the 128-year-old sanctuary of Middle Collegiate Church, one of the city’s oldest congregations.

Firefighters work to put out a fire that broke out in a building next to Middle Collegiate Church on December 5, 2020 in New York City. (Duke Todd via AP)

Nearly 200 firefighters worked to put out the blaze in a slow-moving drizzle, according to reports from The gothamist. There was no loss of life in the fire.

The six-alarm fire started on the first floor of a nearby vacant five-story apartment building on East Seventh Street in the East Village around 5 a.m. before igniting the church, officials said from the FDNY to local ABC reporters. The roof of the church was in flames at 6 a.m. The apartment building was reportedly vacant due to a fire that occurred there in February.

“Unfortunately it looks pretty bad – the sanctuary is not in good shape and we have beautiful Tiffany stained glass windows that are missing,” Middle Collegiate Church minister Amanda Ashcraft told local reporters on the news. premises. “Horribly sad day for our congregation and for this neighborhood.”

In 2008 the church installed a Marshall & Ogletree digital organ which was developed with Organist-in-Residence Cameron Carpenter and was considered one of the finest organs of its type.

Middle Collegiate Church, led by Jacqueline J. Lewis, has its roots in the Dutch Reformed Church, which formed congregations in the New York area in the 1600s. Founded in 1729, Middle Collegiate, also simply known as Middle Church, is the oldest of the city’s four collegiate churches, which includes Marble Collegiate Church on Fifth Avenue, where Norman Vincent Peale pastored for decades.

Middle Collegiate moved into the East Village location in 1892, according to the church’s website.

“We are devastated and crushed that our beloved physical sanctuary at Middle Collegiate Church has burned down,” Reverend Lewis said in a statement provided to RNS. “And yet no fire can stop revolutionary love.”

Firefighters work to put out a fire that broke out in the building next to the Middle Collegiate Church on December 5, 2020 in New York City. (Yuki Iwamura/Associated Press)

The church, which describes itself as “multi-cultural, multi-ethnic and fully inclusive”, has become known for its strong vision of social justice, particularly with regard to racial justice and LGBTQ issues. The church, Lewis said, would continue to meet digitally, as it has since March, due to COVID-19 safety measures.

“We know God doesn’t cause these kinds of tragedies but is present with us and for us as we grieve, present in the hugs and prayers of our loved ones,” Lewis said. “We pray for the first responders. We pray for our neighbors who are also affected by this fire. And we covet your prayers as we mourn.

Martha J. Finley