Steeples removed at Christ Church

August 2, 2012 By Raanan Geberer Brooklyn Daily Eagle

Workers were busy on Wednesday easing down the damaged steeples and part of the bell tower of Christ Church-Cobble Hill as neighbors expressed their regret and wondered about the future of the landmark building.

Last Thursday night, the roof of the circa-1842 church was severely damaged as the result of a lightning strike. Department of Buildings spokesperson Ryan Fitzgibbon said that stones from the bell tower were knocked loose and collapsed onto scaffolding below, which in turn was dislodged and fell onto the street.

Richard Schwartz, a lawyer for the state Attorney General’s Office who lived nearby, was walking past the church and was killed as a result of the collapse.

Clinton Street between DeGraw and Kane Street, as well as Kane Street between Clinton Street and Strong Place, closed since the tragedy because of the building’s instability, remained closed as of late Wednesday. According to police officer Vincent Marrone of the 76th Precinct, they would remain closed until at least Friday.

Canon Shawn Duncan of the Episcopal Diocese of Long Island, of which Christ Church is a part, told the Eagle that soon after the diocese heard about the accident, they brought in an architect and a structural engineer.

Duncan added that it was too early to give a dollar amount for the damage.

“We will make an assessment with our insurance company. For now, the main focus is safety,” he said. The Buildings Department has ordered the church to be closed.

Duncan added that the 70-foot-tall stone structures at the edges of the roof are technically not steeples, which rise in the center of the roof, but “finials,” although most people refer to them as steeples.

Both Duncan and Fitzgibbon emphasized the collaboration between the Buildings Department and the diocese.

Craig Hammerman, district manager of Community Board 6, said community members were feeling “some anxiety and some frustration” because of a lack of information.

“People on the block saw there was an excellent immediate response, with construction crews taking down the steeples and stabilizing the rest of the structure,” he said. “We’d like a declaration of some sort about the condition of the building to put people’s minds at ease.”

Hammerman, who has asked the diocese to hold a community meeting to “brief the neighbors, ” praised the church’s rector, Fr. Ronald T. Lau, for being involved in the community.

Indeed, the church’s web page shows that it hosts a food pantry, a preschool, a day camp, a ballet school, a puppet workshop, the Vertical Players Repertory Opera Company and more.

“Sad for our block, sad for our area,” an onlooker told NY1.

Another said, “I think it’s the most beautiful church in this part of Brooklyn. It is a sorry moment.”

Aldo Rivara, a crane operator working on the job, said, “Yeah I’m a Catholic and this is an Episcopal Church. But I think God is God.”

According to the church’s Facebook page, the scaffolding was put up recently so that workers can shore up the stone work in the tower in the aftermath of an earlier lightning strike and damage sustained by the earthquake of 2011.

For the time being, parishioners are worshipping at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, 199 Carroll St. There is no word yet on when Christ Church will reopen.

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