New Jersey church celebrates Easter despite fire damage to historic sanctuary

More than 500 attend worship at local arts center

March 28, 2016

More than 500 people gather at the Bergen Performing Arts Center for worship services held by the First Presbyterian Church of Englewood.

More than 500 people gather at the Bergen Performing Arts Center for worship services held by the First Presbyterian Church of Englewood. —Bruce Forshee

LOUISVILLE

The congregation of the First Presbyterian Church of Englewood, New Jersey may not have had a sanctuary to celebrate Easter yesterday, but that didn’t stop them. More than 500 people gathered at the Bergen Performing Arts Center for Easter services. The facility was offered to the church after a fire last week heavily damaged the historic sanctuary.

The blaze, believed to be caused by faulty electrical, caused significant damage to the church, destroying portions of the roof, the stained-glass windows and the church steeple.  The building dates back to 1870.

“Everything went off without a hitch,” said the Rev. Richard Hong, church pastor. “It was joyful and that’s how you need to be on this special day, there’s no room for sadness on Easter. You can’t celebrate the fact that death doesn’t have the final word and be sad over a building.”

Most of those attending were church members, but there were a few visitors including leaders from local Muslim and Jewish faiths.

“They say they are very sorry over what happened and want to pull together as a community to show how much we care for one another and offer support in whatever way they can,” said Hong. “One of the local synagogues sent a letter that was signed by every person attending Sabbath worship the day before. That’s a beautiful statement about love, caring and the core values that God wants God’s people to have.”

Last week’s fire was confined to the historic sanctuary of the First Presbyterian Church of Englewood.

Last week’s fire was confined to the historic sanctuary of the First Presbyterian Church of Englewood. —Richard Hong

Presbyterian Disaster Assistance has offered both financial and personal support to the Palisades Presbytery. Representatives of the PDA National Response Team were in attendance at services yesterday.  A number of other churches and organizations offered facilities for Easter services. Hong and his church leadership team selected the largest facility offered.

In the meantime, church leaders are wasting no time preparing for where they will be worshipping in the months and years to come.

“We have a highly functional congregation and are blessed with a lot of expertise. We have people working on both short and long term worshipping solutions,” said Hong. “Right now, we are focusing on schools and synagogues because those will allow us to keep our scheduled worship time. We believe disrupting the time is much worse than disrupting the place.”

Within a few months Hong hopes to begin holding services in the church gymnasium, where they expect to worship for the next two to three years while reconstruction takes place. Hong has been very impressed by how the community has rallied around the church.

“A number of businesses have reached out to us, offering to cater food for our church functions,” he said. “A local bagel shop is offering to set aside a day where every single dollar goes toward the rebuilding of our facilities.”

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Financial gifts to support the church during this time can be made through PDA with account number DR000180.

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