Sermon in the street: Middle Church hosts first in-person service since fire ravaged East Village church

Rising from the ashes, the historic Middle Collegiate Church in the East Village gathered Sunday for its first in-person service since a devastating six-alarm blaze incinerated the beloved house of worship in December of 2020. 

Although the renowned East Village spiritual hub still remains in ruins with merely a scorched facade serving as a reminder of what once was, this did not prevent the church’s loyal congregation from converging on the foundation to worship once more.

When the fire tore through the 128-year-old structure almost one year ago, the space hadn’t been used for devotion since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic — so when congregates emotionally greeted one another Sunday morning, it marked the first group service in nearly two, long years.

Congregants cheered and clapped for in-person return of Middle Collegiate Church. Photo by Dean Moses

Blocking off the roadway between 6th and 7th Streets on Second Avenue, an extensive row of chairs were assembled before a stage that allowed members to pray together under the morning sun with music and dance. Church leader Reverend Rev. Dr. Jacqui Lewis expressed the hardships she and her flock has undergone, and although she admitted that Middle Collegiate is essentially a congregation without a physical church, still Lewis told onlookers that they themselves were the foundation.

Happy to worship together once again. Photo by Dean Moses

The ceremony’s theme was that of resilience, not just of the worshipers who continue to maintain their faith amidst their great loss, but also of New York as a whole as the Big Apple resurfaces from the ravages of the deadly virus.

Less of a service and more of a party, the well over 100 church members celebrated their resurrection in-person and via a live stream broadcast worldwide with baptisms, singing, and loving embrace. The sounds even brought nearby residents dancing onto their fire escapes.

Rev. Dr. Jacqui Lewis.Photo by Dean Moses
Local residents joined the celebration from their fire escapes. Photo by Dean Moses

“Oh my god, it was so amazing, so amazing,” Rev. Dr. Jacqui Lewis told amNewYork Metro after the ceremony. “Look at these people, look at these people. It feels like the best coming home I have ever had actually, wow that’s amazing, because we did it. We did it.”

Beginning on Oct. 10, Middle Collegiate Church will be sharing space with the Parish of Calvary St. George’s while they continue to work on rebuilding their home. Whether it will be in the same location remains to be seen, yet Lewis expressed that she wishes to remain in the East Village.

Rev. Dr. Jacqui Lewis embraces parishioners. Photo by Dean Moses

“We’re committed to being in the East Village and I think this is our ideal site. It is possible that we need to think about another site as well. So, we’ll see,” Lewis said.

According to Lewis, the church has actually gained members since the fire thanks to their online services, but in order to once again return to a permanent location the church is accepting donations at

It’s been almost two years since many parishioners have seen each other in-person. Photo by Dean Moses
Mass was held outside in the shadow of what remains of Middle Collegiate Church. Photo by Dean Moses
Over a hundred people gathered for religious services outside of Middle Collegiate Church. Photo by Dean Moses
Baptisms and other religious ceremonies were held. Photo by Dean Moses
Hundreds celebrated Middle Collegiate Church’s in-person service. Photo by Dean Moses