Fire guts historic St. Paul’s church in Woodside

By Jeremy Walsh

As clean-up crews loaded charred planks into a Dumpster out front last Thursday, Rev. Anandeskar Manuel, who leads an Episcopal congregation at the church, said the congregations want to rebuild.”That is our Christian hope, but the reality is we don't have that kind of money,” he said.When firefighters received reports of a blaze St. Paul's Episcopal Church at 61st Street and 39th Avenue at 11:50 p.m. Dec. 26, they responded to find flames licking through the upper eaves of the 133-year-old wooden building. A second alarm was called for the fire, which took 25 units and 106 firefighters to extinguish. The blaze was under control at 1:04 a.m., the FDNY said.Manuel, who lives across the street, said he was asleep at home when the fire started. He said he had no idea what happened.”My daughter smelled smoke,” he said. “She came upstairs and woke me up, and we saw the fire through the window. By that time, the Fire Department was already there.”The fire gutted the old church, Manuel said, including eight 100-year-old stained glass windows. He did not have any estimate on the total monetary loss.No one was injured in the fire, but the pastors who use the church are struggling with the aftermath. Six small congregations share the church, Manuel said. Although several of them use the larger adjacent brick sanctuary constructed in 1957, a Romanian Orthodox group, a Bengali Christian group and an Alcoholics Anonymous chapter must suspend their services.Father Fred Vergara is director of ethnic ministries at the National Episcopal Church's Manhattan center, but also leads a small Filipino congregation at St. Paul's.”This is a very inclusive church, open to all communities, especially minorities and immigrants,” he said.Following the fire, the city Department of Buildings issued a vacate order to the entire church property – including the brick sanctuary and adjoining preschool. But Manuel said he hoped the DOB would clear the brick structures for occupancy in time to hold New Year's Eve services.The old church was built in 1874, seven years after real estate developer Benjamin Hitchcock began laying out lots for the village that would become Woodside.Donations can be sent to St. Paul's Episcopal Church, P.O. Box 23, Woodside, NY 11377.Reach reporter Jeremy Walsh by e-mail at jwalsh@timesledger.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 154.

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