By Jeremy Walsh
Located at the corner of 39th Avenue and 61st Street, St. Paul's Episcopal Church includes the wooden sanctuary, built in 1874, and a brick sanctuary built in 1957. Both buildings were ordered vacated by the Fire Department and DOB after the blaze, leaving six small immigrant congregations and an Alcoholics Anonymous chapter without a place to meet. Fire Department officials blamed the fire on unattended candles.City Councilman Eric Gioia (D-Sunnyside) said he was working to clear the church for New Year's Eve services in the brick sanctuary, but could not get the city's approval in time.Church staff said the DOB is waiting on the results of an air quality test before it sounds the all clear. In the meantime, the congregations must seek temporary accommodations.”They're kind of meeting in other places right now,” said Susan Manuel, the church's organist. “We're hoping that those who were worshiping in the new sanctuary can come back. But as far as the old sanctuary goes, that's pretty indefinite.”Manuel said the church is still cleaning the shuttered wooden sanctuary and has not yet brought in anyone to assess the damage. If the building is still structurally sound, the church hopes to restore it for continued use, she said.But with no idea of the extent of the damage and few donations coming in, just how much of the old St. Paul's will be saved remains unclear, Manuel said.The fate of the church is of particular interest to Owen Clough, of Bradenton, Fla. Clough, who grew up in Woodside, is a descendant of the Kellys, Howells, Rikers and Teretts, the founding families of Woodside.Clough said his great-great-great-grandmother, Anna Marie Howell, donated the land for St. Paul's and one of the large stained-glass windows destroyed in the fire.Clough, who last lived in Woodside in 1976, said he visited the church in 2004 to give the pastor an engraved plate commemorating the church's 85th anniversary.”He was very thankful because he already had one, but I don't think it was in as good condition as the one I gave him.”As an avid genealogist, Clough said he had hoped to transcribe the church's old written records.”My great-grandfather got married there in 1877, and I'm sure they had baptisms and other things at that time,” he said. “I hope they survived, but I really don't know.”Reach reporter Jeremy Walsh by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 154.