EAST VILLAGE, Manhattan (PIX11) — Parishioners of the Middle Collegiate Church in Manhattan’s East Village praised outside of their house of worship on Monday, something they’ve been doing for three years now. Back in December 2020, a massive electrical fire destroyed the building.

“It was just really tragic because it was a beautiful old church,” said longtime parishioner Tom Smucker.

When the smoke cleared, the only thing left standing was the church façade. In the time since, the worship became digital, broadcasted online, and Zoom calls took the place of in-person service. Most recently, the congregation meets at a borrowed space from a nearby temple. Their church was destroyed but not their faith.

“The church is much more than a building. The church is the people,” said East Village resident Ishmael Hoston-Jones.

Now, the church community is taking the first step in rebuilding. After working with the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission and engineers, the façade was deemed unsafe. Crews have begun the process of tearing it down. Remnants of the historic structure that can be preserved will be repurposed for its reconstruction.

“This is a really important day. The beginning of something new but the end of something old,” said The Rev. Dr. Jacqui Lewis, the senior minister of the church.

While its replacement is being built, a church-owned building around the corner will be renovated so that parishioners can meet for prayer service there. It will continue community programs like the food pantry, summer camp and advocacy for diversity, justice and inclusion for all.

“Middle means so much around the country and the world because there aren’t that many churches preaching the theology of queer liberation,” said The Rev. Benjamin Perry.

The structure had been on the corner of Second Avenue and 7th Street since 1892. Though the church members are sad to see it go, they are hopeful for what’s to come.

The façade demolition will take a few months to be completed.