One hundred fifty years of history went up in smoke last night as fire raged through the First Presbyterian Church of Englewood, New Jersey. The fire broke out around 8:00 p.m. scorching a building that has housed congregations for over a century.
There were no injuries from the blaze, but there is significant damage to the sanctuary. Fire officials say most of the historic stained-glass windows were destroyed, portions of the roof collapsed and there is heavy damage to the church steeple. Officials are still investigating the cause, but the church’s pastor, the Rev. Richard Hong, says the likely cause is faulty electrical, nothing suspicious.
“It is always sad to hear of a church fire, but I can’t think of a worse time than Holy Week,” said Rick Turner, national associate for disaster response with PDA. “There are so many memories for the congregation and this time of year is so important to people of faith. It hurts when you see this.”
Turner says he’s prepared to deploy a National Response Team member to meet and worship with the church on Easter Sunday as soon as they know where those services will be held. PDA is also working on providing a grant to assist the church.
On its website, the church released a statement this morning. “We are grateful for the outpouring of offers for support. At this time, we are taking things one step at a time. The first step is to determine where we will worship for Easter. The church is people, not buildings. We worship Jesus Christ who was raised from the dead, and his church will not be deterred.”
Hong says the church has been growing in attendance over the years, averaging 450 per Sunday and he’s received numerous calls from neighboring churches and organizations offering to host services.
“Synagogues, churches and community organizations have offered worship space,” he said. “We will probably go with the largest facility offered because we typically draw approximately 500 people on Easter and my suspicion is that we may see more than that following the fire and publicity. We need a facility that is large enough to deal with that.”
As expected, Hong says the congregation is emotionally devastated by the fire.
“It’s a historic building and there are so many memories from people who were baptized or married here. Many held their parents’ funerals in this sanctuary,” he said. “It has a strong connection with the town, having organized a year after the town was started in 1860. The building dates back to 1870.
On its website, church leaders encourage members to keep moving forward for the cause of Christ. “This is a time to witness to our faith in Jesus Christ, and continue to live into our values: be determined to continue to live boldly, share boundlessly, grow community, and build God's world.”
The timing of the blaze, according to Hong, will bring special meaning this Easter. “It means there’s no possible way the theme of resurrection could mean more to us than it will this Sunday.”
Financial gifts to support to the church during this time can be made through Presbyterian Disaster Assistance with account number DR000180.