Sheepshead Bay church parishioners mourn loss of ‘second home’
Three days after a suspicious early morning fire destroyed a historic Sheepshead Bay church, parishioners of the Emmanuel Episcopal Church on East 23rd Street found comfort and a shoulder to cry on at worship at Church of the Nativity on Ocean Avenue in Midwood.
It was the second time in 11 years that the building was hit by fire, fire officials said, and the parish was facing an uphill battle to rebuild yet again. The three-alarm fire early Thursday morning destroyed the entire church, and the remains are slated for future demolition.
The massive blaze went to three alarms almost immediately because the building was almost fully engulfed upon arrival.
But according to church elders, it was more than a building to the congregation. “It was a second home,” one said.
While most of the church leaders were still mum about their church, Elijah Reyes said he was hopeful that they could rebuild.
“My heart dropped when I heard about what had happened to our church,” Reyes said. “We gotta keep going — get our church fixed and go right back. When I heard, I just said, ‘Wow.’ We just fixed up from a fire that happened 11 years ago. It’s just another hump that we will get over.”
Bishop Lawrence Provenzano of the Episcopal Diocese of Long Island hosted this special prayer service and greeted the congregants of Emmanuel.
“This was more than just a building, but a place for the community, a place for gathering and prayer,” Bishop Provenzano said. “This is a time for us to support one another and Emmanuel speaks to that, because they were together for so many years. Once they find a cause, they will start the process of rebuilding.”
In the meantime, Bishop Provenzano said, the parish hall at Emmanuel is nearly complete. After the fire 11 years ago, a small parish hall was built right in the back of the burnt-out church.
“My heart breaks for them, because they have been struggling ever since the fire 11 years earlier,” Bishop Provenzano said. “We will move forward with them, and we are offering them hospitality and to be with us in this church. This is what the church does.”
Warden Jefferson Waltriess said losing a church is like losing a family member.
“It’s like losing a parent [or] a kid. It is the people’s house — such a sad situation,” Waltriess said.
Investigators from the FDNY Fire Marshals, NYPD Arson and Explosive Squad, and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms were on scene the morning of the fire, looking for clues as to how the fire started.
Officials were scouring neighboring homes security cameras for clues Thursday morning.
In 2007, the Parish Hall was destroyed by a similar fire. The building was nearly full repair before Thursday’s fire.
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