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Historic Middle Collegiate Church in New York City destroyed in six-alarm fire

'We are devastated and crushed that our beloved physical sanctuary at Middle Collegiate Church has burned. And yet no fire can stop Revolutionary Love,' said the Rev. Jacqueline J. Lewis.

Firefighters work to extinguish a fire that erupted from the building next to Middle Collegiate Church on Saturday, Dec. 5, 2020 in New York. The historic 19th-century church in lower Manhattan was gutted by a massive fire early Saturday that sent flames shooting through the roof. (AP Photo/Yuki Iwamura)

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

Nearly 200 firefighters worked to put out the fire in a slow, drizzling rain, according to reports from The Gothamist. There was no loss of life in the fire.

The six-alarm fire began on the first floor of a nearby five-story vacant apartment building on East Seventh Street in the East Village around 5 a.m. before igniting the church, Fire Department of the City of New York officials told local ABC news reporters. The church’s roof was in flames by 6 a.m. 

The apartment building was reportedly vacant because of an earlier fire there in February. 

“Unfortunately, it seems like it was pretty bad — the sanctuary is not in good shape, and we have some beautiful Tiffany stained glass windows that are gone,” Middle Collegiate Church Minister Amanda Ashcraft told local reporters at the scene. “Horribly sad day for our congregation and for this neighborhood.”

In 2008, the church installed a Marshall & Ogletree digital organ developed with then-organist-in-residence Cameron Carpenter and considered one of the finest organs of its kind.

Middle Collegiate Church, led by The Rev. Jacqueline J. Lewis, traces its roots back to the Reformed Dutch Church, which formed congregations in the New York area in the 1600s. Established in 1729, Middle Collegiate, known also simply as Middle Church, is the oldest of the city’s four Collegiate churches, which include Marble Collegiate Church on Fifth Avenue, where the Rev. Norman Vincent Peale was pastor 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,” Rev. Lewis said in a statement provided to RNS. “And yet no fire can stop Revolutionary Love.”

The church, which describes itself as “multi-cultural, multi-ethnic and fully inclusive,” has become known for its strong social justice outlook, particularly regarding racial justice and LGBTQ issues.

“We know that God does not cause these kinds of tragedies but is present with us and to us as we grieve, present in the hugs and prayers of loved ones,” said Lewis. The church, she said, would continue to meet digitally, as they have been doing since March, due to COVID-19 safety measures.

“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 grieve,” said Lewis.