After the fireplace within the central church, recommendation from church buildings that survived the catastrophe

(RNS) – The fire that destroyed the historic Middle Collegiate Church building in New York City began in the dark of an early Saturday morning (December 5th). Around noon, as prayers, thoughts, and offers of help began arriving, Church leaders began to hold their congregation together – and lay the foundations for rebuilding.

Zoom meetings were established to allow Church members to mourn together. A multicultural children’s book fair went ahead, as did the planned online service for the second Sunday in Advent, in which 25 people took part as new members.

By Sunday evening they had also created a special connection that people could use to support the “climb” of a new building.

Gianfranco Grande. Image courtesy Partners for Sacred Places

“People need to act fast,” said Gianfranco Grande, executive vice president of Partners for Sacred Places, a nonprofit that helps redesign and maintain places of worship. “And if not, the emotion generated by the news disappears. Our society is very easily distracted these days for many, many reasons, and especially at this special time with the pandemic. “

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

In addition to member donations, Middle Collegiate received $ 20,000 from a Facebook fundraiser launched by Rev. Traci Blackmon, a friend of his pastor, Rev. Jacqui Lewis. (Blackmon, a United Church of Christ pastor in Missouri, said the money was pledged for what she called the “resurrection number” of three days.) In total, the church raised $ 200,000 in one week.

“I can’t go through my inbox despite all the love we’ve been shown,” Lewis said in an interview with the Religion News Service on Friday, six days after her role as chief minister changed dramatically.

The Middle Collegiate, also known simply as the Middle Church, moved to its location in Manhattan’s East Village in 1892. The neo-Gothic sanctuary featured centuries-old Tiffany stained glass windows and a state-of-the-art digital organ from 2008.

“We are devastated and depressed that our beloved physical shrine in Middle Collegiate Church burned to the ground,” Lewis said in a statement on Fire Day.

“We know we are the church with no institution, but we really want one,” Lewis said with a slight laugh almost a week later. The site meant a lot to her both personally and professionally. “I got married in this room in 2005. This is my room that burned down. The baptisms, the celebrations, the giant dolls, the dance, this special service on King’s Day, Easter. All of this happens in a room and that’s why we want to have a room again. “

Leaders from other churches who have suffered structural losses have some recommendations for Lewis and their flock.

Serbian Orthodox Cathedral of St. Saba during its reconstruction project. Image courtesy of the Serbian Orthodox Diocese of East America

The Rev. Djokan Majstorovic, former dean of the Serbian Orthodox Cathedral of St. Saba. Courtesy Rev. Djokan Majstorovic

Rev. Djokan Majstorovic was dean of the Serbian Orthodox Cathedral of St. Saba – a mile and a half from Middle Collegiate – when it suffered a devastating fire in 2016.

“Most of all, it is to keep the community together,” he said, remembering how he asked the parishioners to pray to God for strength and comfort as they began to accept the reality of their situation.

New roof and floor beams have been added to the cathedral, according to a statement on the diocese’s website, but the St. Saba Parish continues to meet near the Greek Orthodox Church of St. Eleftherios, which suffered a fire of its own in 1973.

Majstorovic said it helped him reach out to other prominent New York communities that had witnessed fires, such as St. John the Divine Cathedral and the Central Synagogue, when the crisis was fresh. “It was very nice to visit these people because they were first of all very compassionate and very encouraging and very helpful in telling us where to go, who to contact, who to talk to and how to go about it,” he said.

Lewis said that places of worship in the city have offered their spaces as meeting places and she is considering which ones to work with to make room for future classical music concerts.

CONNECTED: Gospel fans mourn the historic Chicago Church

Left: Historic photo of the Pilgrim Baptist Church in Chicago. Right: Pilgrim Baptist Church, Chicago in 2020. Courtesy of the Library of Congress, control number il0127, and the Pilgrim Baptist Church

A Chicago landmark where the late Thomas A. Dorsey created traditional black gospel music and performed with voices as notable as Mahalia Jackson, the Pilgrim Baptist Church suffered a devastating fire in 2006 and now meets in its renovated community center on the other Street side.

Cynthia M. Jones, chairwoman of the Pilgrim Baptist Board of Trustees, said house leaders need to be strategic in their appeals for donations. “A lot of people won’t give for a church, but they will give for a historic building. So how you capture that is very important,” said Jones, who said the fundraising began in 2017 and has given concerts with gospel artists. “I learned that after about a year and a half. I always refer to a sacred space or a sacred place. “

Jones’ Church plans to replace its original location with the National Museum of Gospel Music, which Jones will hopefully open in 2023.

The museum displays sheet music recovered from the fire, as well as wooden beams that were untouched by the flames.

“If the national gospel museum is set up there, it will add breadth to this ward,” said Jones, who said visitors from around the world stop frequently to take pictures and pick up the remaining bricks.

St. John African Methodist Episcopal Church in Nashville, Tennessee. Image courtesy Rev. Lisa Hammonds

The St. John African Methodist Episcopal Church, a 19th-century ward in Nashville, Tennessee, is recovering from a tornado that hit in March.

Pastor, Rev. Lisa Hammonds, said clergymen should publicly mourn their loss in order to give their parishioners permission to mourn as well. However, she said they also face the “tax and discouraging” work of dealing with government, disaster relief and insurance officials.

“I found it helpful very early on to get a notepad that turned into a folder, and I now call it the ‘Church Bible,'” said Hammonds. “Document everything. Tick ​​every T. Dot every I. ”

Hammonds, whose congregation is working with a counselor on a “revision process” before launching a capital rebuild campaign, said her church has found ways to continue service without its 61-year-old building. A “blessing box” was set up on the now level area on which the church building was located, in which people in the neighborhood can continue to leave or take what they need for donated non-perishable food, diapers and feminine hygiene products.

The church, which practically met for the two weeks after the fire, has also found new ways to serve its congregation from afar. As a partner of the local United Way, the company has paid more than $ 400,000 to landlords, mortgage and utility companies for applicants in the county who were behind on their bills.

CONNECTED: New York Church to provide $ 200,000 in “reparations” with housing assistance and anti-racism training

Shrine of Christ the King’s sovereign priest in Chicago. Image courtesy of the Institute for Christ, the King’s Sovereign Priest

Grande said church rebuilding should be aimed at the immediate fellowship, but also worldwide. He cited Chicago’s shrine of Christ, the king’s sovereign priest, whom his organization advised after its structure burned. It raised millions from foundations and from friends of the priest out of town as well as from parishioners.

“This is the solution for situations like this,” he said. “Notre Dame in Paris – the same.
It’s not that the nearly $ 1 billion came from the Catholic Church. It came from people all over the world. “

Lewis said the worldwide recognition of her church’s need for reconstruction assistance has been reassuring.

“We’re not just an East Village Church. We belong to the nation and in some places around the world as a progressive, loving place where anything is possible, ”she said. “And the love people show us to be who we are is so heartwarming.”

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