Residents are still reeling from the loss of the century-old Maspeth United Methodist Church, which burned to the ground June 9 during a lightening storm.
The church’s pastor of 14 years, Aviela de Leon, feels the effects perhaps more than anyone. His old house, which was located next door to the church on 58th Avenue, was damaged by the fire, forcing him and his family to evacuate. They moved a few blocks away, still close enough to stay connected to his beloved community.
“I am retiring by the end of June and it is a sad experience on my part because I am at the end of my term and my church building is gone,” said de Leon, speaking several days after the fire. “I’ve been in this church for fourteen years.”
De Leon described the space as “a church for the community, not just for the members.” Aside from the small, membership of the church, several community groups used the facility, including two Girl Scout Groups, an Alcohol Anonymous chapter and a yoga class. The church has also housed a children’s playgroup and a senior center in recent years.
These and other groups are doing their part to breathe life back into what is now a burnt plot of land littered with scrap metal.
“The girl scouts did some auction for us- art, paintings and all of the that- and they gave the church $2,500,” said de Leon. He said girl scouts have also written in to the popular television program, Extreme Makeover, to see if they are interested in lending a hand in rebuilding the facility.
Another good samaritan drove all the way from Farmingdale to hand the pastor an envelope filled with $500. De Leon said the man, whose grandmother was a longtime church member, offered the donation to help rebuild the church.
“I am humbled by the response coming from the community. Everybody in the neighborhood is opening their doors to us,” de Leon said. “Its inspiring. These are the sources of our joy and our hope in the midst of this tragedy. So considering this response, I think we are more than encouraged to rebuild our church.”
De Leon said the church, which is still waiting for the fire department’s report to submit to the insurance company, hopes to get some money in return for years of insurance payments.
Robert DeSandre, who has lived with his wife Barbara in Maspeth for over 40 years, said the church would be sorely missed. “It’s a terrible thing because for a lot of the people it’s almost like a place to go, like a home,” DeSandre said. “But what can you do, you know? What’s done is done.”
Until decisions for the Church’s future are made, the parish and its pastor remain optimistic. Just days after the fire, in a sermon delivered in a temporary worship space, De Leon, referencing a hopeful passage from the Book of Ezekiel, asked his congregation if they were motivated to rebuild the church.
“‘Yes we are!’” congregants responded, according to de Leon. “It was a resounding yes,” he added. “So we are going to try our best to [bring] it back.”