It was a bitter-sweet moment for Rev. Jacqui Lewis, senior minister of New York City’s Middle Collegiate Church when pandemic restrictions relaxed and Easter approached. After two years, the congregation would finally be able to celebrate the holiday together. But where would they do so?
Middle Collegiate Church in the East Village of New York City, dates to 1628—less than 40 years after the city changed its name from New Amsterdam. It was the oldest continuously active congregation in America until December 5, 2020.
“A fire in a vacant building in the East Village early Saturday morning spread to a 128-year-old church that houses the New York Liberty Bell,” wrote the New York Times, “destroying its Gothic-style sanctuary and blowing out the Tiffany stained-glass windows that adorned the stone facade.”
All that remained was the steeple and façade, and New York's historic Liberty Bell, which, like its younger but more famous counterpart in Philadelphia, rang out on July 4, 1776, to announce the signing of the Declaration of Independence.
Religion News Service reports that when Rabbi Joshua Stanton of East End Temple heard about the fire, he was heartbroken. “I reached out to the Rev. Dr. Jacqui Lewis and I said: Anything you need, we will provide it,” he said. “Your loss is felt well beyond your community. Your heartbreak, we share in. And we’re here for you, however possible.”
So as Lewis considered where she would hold Easter services now that restrictions made it possible to do so in person again after two years, she remembered his kind words.
“It just felt like a revolutionary thing to do, to partner with our Jewish colleagues in this way,” Lewis told Religion News Service. “I honor that we have a shared base of faith in the one God who loves us all. And I’m just thrilled they are not only open to, but delighted to, open their doors for us.”
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