A little more than two months have passed since a fire tore through Clinton Hill's Church of St. Luke and St. Matthew, and though there still is much left to repair and rebuild, the church that served as a pillar of strength during trying times for the borough-at-large is as committed as ever to fulfilling that role.
"The church really became a community center during Hurricane Sandy, and we wanted to make that permanent," Rev. Michael Sniffen, the church’s rector, told Patch.
The church, which worked with Occupy Sandy volunteers to aid in Hurricane Sandy relief efforts and was a major dropoff point for donations, had developed a multitude of programs and planned to lend itself to various organizations, all to serve the community. But the fire put a dent in those plans.
At around 4:30 a.m. on Sunday, Dec. 23, more than 100 firefighters battled the two-alarm blaze, but the church still suffered extensive damage.
"There was major structural damage," Rev. Sniffen said. He noted the entire entryway of the church, the floor of the balcony, the staircase, the ceiling and the floor were burnt out when the fire happened.
Though happened might not be the correct word. Four gas cans were found near the scene of the fire, and the incident has been labeled suspicious by officials.
"The work is being covered by the [NYPD] Hate Crimes Division," Rev. Sniffen said.
It would be easy to focus on that aspect of the story, but the church has more to think about-- like rebuilding and getting back to serving as the community hub it has become known to be.
"The whole broader community is asking what it can do to help," Rev. Sniffen said. "Lots of people in the community felt very connected [to the church after Hurricane Sandy]. We made so many connections through the hurricane."
Rev. Sniffen has been pointing people to the church's website, which includes a link to make donations, all of which go toward renovations.
"The majority of the large scale cleaning already happened, now we're waiting to do a full restoration of the interior of the church," Rev. Sniffen said, who noted rebuilding will begin the day after Easter.
He said the majority of the work will take 12 weeks, and most of the restoration requires a very technical touch. "The church was built in 1888 and requires people with very specialized experience, [including] mill work and stain glass work," Rev. Sniffen said.
After those 12 weeks, the scaffolding will come down and the remaining work will commence, including upgrading the building's electrical system, rearranging rooms to fit the church's developing needs and repainting. "The church had been painted in the 1960's so we're restoring it to the original color," said Rev. Sniffen.
Once the restoration is complete, programs that had been on the docket before the fire, as well as offerings that have been developed since, will begin, including art classes, dance classes, youth programs and a feeding program on Saturdays.
"This church doesn't belong to us, it belongs to all people of God," Rev. Sniffen said. "One thing we've learned through this experience is how important it is to have open public spaces. The faith community can have a really important role in being a safe place to gather together. This fire just strengthened our resolve to be such a place."