EAST VILLAGE, Manhattan — A five-alarm fire ripped through a building and severely damaged a historic church in the East Village Saturday morning, FDNY officials said.
The fire started in a vacant building at 47 East 7th St. around 4:50 a.m., officials said. The flames quickly spread to Middle Collegiate Church, which is located behind the building on Second Avenue, as well as another building on 7th Street, according to FDNY Assistant Chief John Hodgens.
“We had all of our units in position and we were quickly able to contain it to that area,” Hodgens said at the scene.
Videos show the first building engulfed in massive flames as well as firefighters dousing the church in water.
Four firefighters suffered minor injuries, according to Hodgens.
Rev. Jacqui Lewis, the senior minister with the church, called the fire devastating.
“We are devastated and crushed that our beloved physical sanctuary at Middle Collegiate Church has burned. And yet no fire can stop Revolutionary Love,” Lewis said on Twitter.
Lewis spoke later Saturday to reporters and was no less downtrodden but also no less resolute in going on with what they say their purpose is..
“We are gutted, our building is gutted. We are sad, we are crestfallen but we are here. No one died, thanks be to God and we’re not going anywhere, the fire will not stop our revolutionary love.”
The church is part of the Lower East Side Historic District. It was built in 1892 and featured over a dozen artificially-lit Tiffany windows as well as a large Tiffany skylight dome, Middle Collegiate’s website says. The windows, as well as the church’s sanctuary, appear to have been destroyed.
The church is also home to New York’s Liberty Bell, which rang in 1776 in celebration of the nation’s independence from British rule. It is unclear whether the bell survived the fire.
The congregation itself dates to the settlement of the city in the 1620s.
Middle Collegiate Church posted on Twitter Saturday morning, offering thanks to those who had reached out to help. The church has set up a webpage for donations.
“Thanks to everyone for your support. It means so very much in our overwhelming grief,” Middle Collegiate Church tweeted.
Thanks to everyone for your support. It means so very much in our overwhelming grief.— Middle Church (@middlechurch) December 5, 2020
The Church is not a building, but buildings matter. This is home.
We’ll have more to say in the days to come, but here’s the link for anyone looking to donate.https://t.co/Rtb3odKP9d
More than 150 firefighters from 39 units were still on the scene Saturday morning, several hours after the fire was first reported.
“We are going to be operating here for a while,” Hodgens said.
The building where the fire began also caught fire in February, according to a fire official.
The cause of Saturday’s fire is under investigation.
Mayor Bill de Blasio called the church’s destruction “heartbreaking.”
“Middle Collegiate is such an icon of the East Village. I can’t count the number of times I walked past it and took in its humble beauty,” de Blasio said on Twitter. “[The FDNY] is continuing operations on the scene. We’ll do whatever we can to help Middle Collegiate rebuild.”
Some of the 1,400 members of the church’s congregation gathered in a virtual service Saturday night, praying that at least part of the church building, including the liberty bell, can be saved.
While the church dates back to the 1800s, its message is contemporary, progressive and inclusive. Middle Collegiate supports social causes like the Black Lives Matter movement and welcomes all religions, races and sexual persuasions.
As fire officials search for the cause of the fire in the vacant building, onlookers marveled at the generosity of church members who helped move homeless women out of the shelter next door at the Women’s Prison Association as the fire raged around them.
“They did what they always do, they lead with love and do whatever they can to be supportive,” said Georgia Lerner, the executive director of Women’s Prison Association.
On Sunday, inspectors from the department of buildings will be back on the scene to ascertain the stability of the structures and begin demolition of those that are deemed too shaky.
This story comprises reporting from The Associated Press