NEW YORK (AP) - A historic church in lower Manhattan that houses New York's Liberty Bell and whose congregation dates to the city's earliest days was gutted by a massive fire early Saturday that sent flames shooting through the roof.
The Middle Collegiate Church in the East Village burned before dawn after a fire spread from a five-story vacant building adjacent to the church around 5 a.m. Flames shot from the roof and the church's stately front window glowed from the conflagration inside.
“We are devastated. We are gutted like our building is gutted; our hearts are crushed like our doors are crushed,” said the Rev. Jacqueline J. Lewis. "But we know how to be the church, and we know that God is God, yesterday, today and tomorrow.”
City Council member Carlina Rivera tweeted that no injuries were reported.
A women's shelter operated by the Women's Prison Association next door was also damaged, its 15 residents temporarily evacuated to a nearby family shelter run by the organization.
A spokesperson for WPA said the women would use shower and dining facilities at the family shelter while staff worked to find them places to stay until the damage at the Second Avenue site is fully assessed.
"We expect there will be many unforeseen costs in the coming days, weeks, and even months." said Diana McHugh, the Director of Communications for WPA. Donations can be made online at www.wpaonline.org
Built in 1892, the church is home to the oldest congregation of the Collegiate Churches of New York, which date to the Dutch settlement of the island in the 1620s, according to the church's website.
The Middle Collegiate Church had been in two other locations in Manhattan since 1729.
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The bell tower houses New York’s Liberty Bell, which pealed to mark the birth of the nation in 1776 and has since been rung for the inaugurations and deaths of American presidents and events such as remembrance of the Sept. 11 attacks, according to the church.
Lewis believed the bell survived the fire but was not certain. Church minister Amanda Ashcraft told WABC that the Tiffany stained glass windows were gone.
The fate of the church building is unclear, Lewis said, but the ministry will continue.
“Our church has been worshipping digitally since March 15,” Lewis said. “And that's what we'll be doing tomorrow.”
The Church is directing people who want to help with the rebuilding efforts to their website, middlechurch.org.