December 07, 2020 by: Ben Heimsath

This weekend, a fire in an empty apartment building spread to the Middle Collegiate Church next door and gutted the historic sanctuary. Firefighters took eight hours to squelch the flames. The damage is still being assessed, though the historic building is severely damaged. Originally built in 1892, it is clear already the interior nave and the original Tiffany stained glass are completely lost. The spire holds New York’s Liberty Bell and its fate remains uncertain.

Middle Collegiate Church

Alex Lozupone - Creative Commons

The event made national news, though the best coverage I’ve seen comes from the real estate website, New York YIMBY that posted a detailed description of the fire and its aftermath.

The NY Times offered this video of the fire.

The congregation has already responded with words of encouragement on the Middle Collegiate Church website. With a picture of first responders at the fire, the banner reads: “No Fire Can Stop Revolutionary Love, Help us as we rise…” Their Instagram posts a zoom meeting the evening of the fire where visitors were invited to share “A Space to Grieve.”

From our own experience with First Baptist Church in Dripping Springs, recovering from this tragic event will require a great deal of support from many sources. First Baptist’s bell was all that remained after their fire. It became the featured element in the design of their new sanctuary. We hope the Middle Collegiate Church will be able to rescue and restore its historic bell and possibly the bell tower as well.

Working with what remains of the historic edifice will require thoughtful and creative solutions. We suggest a collaborative and inclusive process to foster a sense of healing and purpose even as it produces design ideas that may not have been imaginable prior to the fire.

The community has begun to rally with links to donate. In response to Covid, the Church’s worship had already moved on-line, so the December 13 service with its sermon title, “Love’s Song” is posted as usual.

God’s blessings to you all!

Sacred Architecture/ Historic Preservation/ New York City/ Church Architecture