A journey of hope: East Village’s Middle Collegiate Church members hold spiritual march a year after devastating fire

Flames may have destroyed their house of worship, but it rekindled their kindred spirit of peace and love.

Exactly a year to the day after a fire demolished the Middle Collegiate Church sanctuary, members of the East Village congregation assembled on Sunday for a march back to the ashes. 

Converging at Calvary Episcopal Church—their temporary place of prayer since the flames took their beloved chapel—on 21st Street and Park Avenue South, the parishioners took part in a mass service before returning home. 

On Dec. 5, 2020, a devastating six-alarm fire tore through Middle Collegiate Church over century-old walls, sending plumes of black smoke wafting into the air as firefighters desperately attempted to quell the inferno—but the fire was too great. Unfortunately, the church was completely gutted — the house of worship’s grand, gothic-style façade being the only part of the sanctuary left standing.

Before setting off on their march, members of the church worshiped together at Calvary Episcopal Church. Photo by Dean Moses
Members of Middle Collegiate Church took to the streets in song. Photo by Dean Moses

Led by Middle Church’s spiritual leader Rev. Dr. Jacqui Lewis, the churchgoers sat in the pews at Calvary Episcopal Church and reflected on the past year. Lewis became emotional as she watched a video package that showcased the path her flock had taken from the inception of the fire to that very day one year later. But the assembly did not just mourn the physical loss of their chapel, but rather other spiritual pains experienced over the past year — such as the proliferation of anti-Semitism and anti-Asian hate crimes, and efforts to ban abortions in other states.

“Now, we will take the pain and the grief, and we will take it to the streets. We are going to get up together, we are going to put on our coats, and we are going to walk, and we are going to walk down to our church,” Rev. Dr Lewis said.

Rev. Dr. Jacqui Lewis sat in prayer on Dec. 5 while reflecting on the past year.Photo by Dean Moses

Beginning a procession through the streets, it was a march not of sorrow or grief but instead one of joy and gratitude for that which they still have.

Bellowing jubilant hymns and freedom songs, the group marched with pride to the East Village. The parading musical performance turned heads, garnering warm smiles from bystanders.

Churchgoers lined the streets. Photo by Dean Moses

“We’re asking ourselves what have we found in the fire? We have found community and resistance and resilience and so much support in the fire,” Rev. Dr Lewis told amNewYork Metro as she strode alongside her parishioners. “We haven’t found a permanent home yet, so we’re working on that. But we’re gonna go and see the site and grieve together.”

Rev. Dr. Lewis expressed her desire to find another location within the East Village area to call home, until that time she says she is thankful for all those who have donated since the fire at middlechurch.org/rising. 

Once arriving at the mound of bricks where Middle Collegiate Church once stood in all its glory, the group prayed together and even danced beneath the afternoon sun.

Rev. Benjamin Perry felt joyous with his flock despite all that they have lost. Photo by Dean Moses
The anniversary was commanded with dance. Photo by Dean Moses
Both adults and children joined in the singing. Photo by Dean Moses