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College Pt. church moves on after fire

Parishioner Alice Crotty must have felt a certain resonance in the Scripture she recited at the First Reformed Church of College Point Sunday: "We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed."

The 135-year-old wooden church suffered major damage Friday night when a fire ripped through its steeple, closing the main sanctuary. But that did not stop the congregation from holding services on the lawn.

The Rev. Linda Burlew Gold led a group of about 45 through the Sunday service under towering maple trees just a few feet from the tire tracks and yellow emergency tape left behind by firefighters.

The blaze was reported at 6:09 p.m. Friday, FDNY officials said. Firefighters brought it under control in a little more than an hour. No second alarm was issued.

Six firefighters sustained minor injuries in the blaze. Burlew asked the congregation to keep them in their prayers.

What the church will do now is unclear, but the congregation will not be hurting for gathering places.

"We've had more offers of places to worship than there are Sundays in the year," Burlew said.

Clean-up efforts had begun Sunday, and Burlew said water damage was the largest problem in much of the church. The building is in no immediate danger of collapsing, she added.

"The bell is still in the steeple, and as the water was hitting it, you could hear it ring," she said.

Burlew, who lives two houses away from the church, found out about the fire when she heard the sirens. A passerby who saw smoke called 911, she said.

"It could have been so much worse," she said. "We're blessed it didn't catch to the houses next door."

Fire officials still had not determined a cause for the fire, which consumed part of the original wooden church. Insurance inspectors were determining the extent of the damages, Burlew said.

The congregation dates back to 1871. Regular worship services began soon after, and the church was dedicated on Sept. 28, 1873. Some parishioners, like Karl Nagasawa, 43, can count four generations of family as church members.

Those who attended the Sunday service were optimistic the church would survive the way it did in 1979, the last time it suffered a fire.

Senior Elder Don Moss, 73, said he was confident the combination of insurance and community help would keep them going.

"I think maybe we're stronger than ever," he said. "Things like this really bring people together."

Those wishing to donate to the church can send checks to its fire fund, 118-17 14th Ave., College Point, NY 11356.

Reach reporter Jeremy Walsh by e-mail at jwalsh@timesledger.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 154.

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