EAST VILLAGE, Manhattan (WABC) -- A historic church that was gutted by a fire in 2020 held its first in-person worship services on Sunday since the start of the pandemic.
The Middle Collegiate Church on Second Avenue was destroyed last December by a 6-alarm fire.
The church was built in 1892 and has been linked to key historical events in American history.
On Sunday, the congregation came together for an outdoor celebration in front of the sanctuary in the shadows of what is left of the building.
"It was just like an eruption of joy from the bottom of my soul -- it's so beautiful," said Rev. Dr. Jacqui Lewis.
In early December of last year, a six-alarm blaze broke out in a building next door. Flames then spread, wiping out the sanctuary.
At that time, no one had been inside the historic church for nine months, because of the pandemic. During that period, they worshipped virtually, and 400 new people joined the church -- like Tonya and Majora -- now lifelong friends. They live nearly 3,000 miles apart, but Sunday was their first time meeting face-to-face.
"I wish the building didn't burn, the church did, but we're together because of it, so I have mixed feelings -- it's very poignant," said Tanya Fox.
As for rebuilding, the church does not have access to the neighboring lot where this all started, so logistically it is a challenge.
"This is a time when we get community together and link up because it's a coming home," said worshipper John Delcueto.
A tremendous amount of planning went into the service, and while it was a one-time gathering, Rev. Lewis tells Eyewitness News that if it all goes right, everyone will be back in person for Christmas services.
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