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Fire ravages historic Woodside church

When Reverend Anandsekar Manuel, the pastor of the historic St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Woodside, walked inside his church hours after a fire gutted the interior of the building, he described his reaction as devastated and shattered.
An overnight fire ripped through the church located at 61st Street and 39th Avenue on Wednesday, December 26, and dozens of firefighters worked for nearly two hours to get the fire under control as horrified neighbors looked on.
“This precious church building, which withstood all these years, watching it go up in flames was the most horrible, painful thing,” said Manuel, who has lived across the street from the church and has been its pastor since 1994.
Manuel said his daughter woke him up shortly before midnight when she smelled smoke, and when he looked across the street, he saw his church engulfed in flames. Since the fire broke out in the 133-year-old church shortly before midnight, there were no worshippers or workers inside the building, and no one was seriously injured.
“Thank God there were no human casualties; that’s the consoling part, but all of my antique stained glasses - more than 100 years old - they’re all gone,” Manuel said.
The property, which the Episcopal Diocese of Long Island owns, was not just the place of worship for Manuel’s small 40-50 person congregation, but groups of Bangali Christians, Korean Presbyterians and Roman Orthodox also used the facility to worship. In addition, Manuel ran a preschool out of the facility during the day, and an alcoholic anonymous group gathered for meetings there two nights a week.
As of Monday morning, December 31, Manuel said that none of those groups will be able to use the facility, and that he depends on revenue from the other groups to support the financial expenses of the church.
Meanwhile, church worshippers have been flocking to the fire-damaged building expressing their support to Manuel and the staff.
Cleanup crews began work immediately after the fire, but city officials have given no indication when activities inside any parts of the building will be able to resume. In addition, fire marshals have not speculated about a cause of the fire, but Manuel said he did not believe that foul play was involved.
“The neighborhood values this place,” Manuel said. “I run a preschool in my facility and the neighbors are so supportive of us that I don’t have any suspicions. It could be an accident.”

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