The church also holds great value for the lower East Side neighborhood. Built in 1892, it is one of New York’s four collegiate churches. The congregation was founded in 1628 by Reformed Dutch settlers, making it one of the oldest Protestant congregations in America.
Today, the church is dually aligned with the Reformed Church in America and the United Church of Christ.
When Pamela Edgar joined the congregation 12 years ago, she was struck by how the church reconciles its Reformed heritage while defending progressive and inclusive values.
“It’s a beautiful old church that welcomes everybody,” she said. “It has a traditional building and a very modern spirit.”
During the 1980s AIDS crisis, the church welcomed members of the LGBTQ+ community by offering meals and hosting funerals, Edgar said. It hosts queer-centered events and campaigns to change the Reformed Church’s rules on LGBTQ+ members’ ordination.
In 2020, after George Floyd’s death, the congregation organized #BlackLivesMatter gatherings and gave anti-racist trainings. It also distributes food and provides resources to migrants.
Tom Smucker, who described Middle Church as “progressive and inclusive,” said he looked forward to “coming back home.”
“It is important to me as a longtime resident of the neighborhood, a longtime member. It is very meaningful to our family,” said Smucker, who has lived in the East Village since the 1960s.
The fire ravaged the church’s Tiffany-stained glass windows and led to the loss of many historical records. The church’s bell, which announces the inauguration and death of every American president, remained intact and is being kept at the New York Historical Society until the end of the sanctuary’s reconstruction.
Lewis reaffirmed Middle Church was more than the edifice.
“The church is not the building, it’s the people,” she said. “They are also doing fierce love in the world.”
This article originally appeared here.