2004 Fire

From Deeanna Alford <>
Date Fri, 21 May 2004 16:10:15 -0400

May 21, 2004

Fire guts historic New York church

Pittsford church constructed in 1861 is almost a total loss

by Alexa Smith

LOUISVILLE - A fire destroyed the interior of First Presbyterian Church in
Pittsford, NY, on May 20, after lightning struck the roof of the historic,
1,100-member church.

	Flames 15 feet high lapped at the church, whose roof collapsed and
whose 143-year-old sanctuary was gutted. Firefighters were at the scene
through the night.

Pittsford is on the outskirts of Rochester, NY.

	According to The Democrat and Chronicle, a Rochester newspaper,
Assistant Fire Chief Scott Joeger said the sanctuary is a total loss.
Firefighters had limited access to the sanctuary, which was built in the
19th century and is registered as a historic site.

	"The roof burned, fell in and destroyed the interior of the
sanctuary," the Rev. Bruce Boak, the church's pastor, reported Friday
morning. "We're hoping to save the walls. The stained glass, some of it is
just gone. We're hoping to save some of it, too."

	The balcony - which supported the organ and the choir loft - also
collapsed. Three pews dating to 1861 may be salvageable, Boak said. The
brick walls are standing, as well as the church's tower and spire, the
tallest in Pittsford.

	"Now we have to figure out what to do," Boak said. "People will
pull together."

	When the electrical storm began about 8 o'clock Thursday night, the
choir, the associate pastor and several Stephen ministers were in the
building. No one was hurt.

"The choir rehearsal was punctuated by a loud boom when the lightening
hit," said Boak. "They evacuated the building and the automatic alarm
system alerted the fire department."

	The associate pastor, the Rev. Carrie Mitchell, led a midnight
prayer service on the church grounds for 30 members who stayed while
firefighters worked to contain the blaze.

	"That was moving," said Dick Crawford, a trustee and a longtime
member of First Church. "We all stood holding hands. Last night was a night
of big emotion. Today it is all sinking in. Now there's a lot of activity
going on."

	First Church's trustees and session will meet tonight. The first
item on the agenda is where to worship on Sunday. Genesee Valley Presbytery
is already collecting "loaner" chalices and plates so that the congregation
can celebrate Communion when it gathers.

 The Rev. Edie Gause, executive of the Presbytery of Genesee Valley, said
the borrowed items will help First church worshippers "feel the love of
their sibling churches all around them."

	First was a Congregational church when it was founded in 1809,
according Crawford, the church historian. He said the congregation moved to
the current site in 1826. The present structure was built in 1861 and
consecrated in 1863.

	Crawford, who said his wife, Martha, grew up in the church, said:
"I was there until about 1:30 this morning. "She was a confirmand here. We
were married here. All three of the children were confirmed here. This
church has been a part of our life for the last 40 years. More than that,
for Martha."

	Presbyterian Disaster Assistance is sending $10,000 to help meet
the congregation's immediate needs, according to Stan Hankins, associate
for U.S. disaster response. First church has been a supporter of the
disaster-relief program of the Presbyterian Publishing Corporation, which
provides Bibles, hymnals and other resources to churches in need.

	Gause said expressions of comfort may be sent to her email address:

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More information in the FireFighters report