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Filipino Pastor Saddened By Loss of NY Church in Fire

Filipino Reporter, News Feature, Edmund M. Silvestre Posted: May 03, 2009

MASPETH, N.Y. - A century-old Queens Methodist church headed for 14 years by a Filipino pastor was gutted by raging fire on June 9, devastating its congregants of diverse backgrounds.

The destruction of the 102-year-old white clapboard Maspeth United Methodist Church came as Rev. Avelio de Leon (right) was preparing to retire at the end of June. His successor, Eumin Kim, a Korean, has earlier been named.

"I'm retiring at the end of the month, so it's a sad ending," said De Leon, who obtained his bachelor of divinity from the University of Santo Tomas in Manila.
"Everything was destroyed, including our Bibles, hymn books and tables and chairs," he said. "Even the church records all burned."

The two-alarm blaze ignited at the 58th Avenue church just after 4:30 a.m. The church was situated right in front of the pastor's house.

De Leon said he believed that the clapboard structure may have been ignited by lightning strikes during the furious overnight storm.

The heavily Catholic neighborhood celebrated the congregation's 150th anniversary in 2004, and the current church was dedicated on Feb. 24, 1907.
"Everyone on the block is involved with the church," said Mike Walter, an accountant. "It has an open-door policy."

Like many older congregations, membership dwindled over the years, and reports say that the Sunday attendance averaged about 25 for services.

Nevertheless, the church was a center of community activity according to locals, being a home for 175 girl scouts, yoga classes, a toddler playgroup and an Alcoholics Anonymous chapter that met on Sunday nights.

De Leon says the church was insured. Until a decision is made on whether or not to rebuild, parishioners say they'll attend services at one of two sister churches nearby.

The Department of Buildings determined the church was structurally unsound and issued an emergency declaration to have it demolished.

The Department of Housing and Preservation demolished the historic structure the following day.

Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley (D-Middle Village) had asked that some precious artifacts from the church be recovered before demolition.

Crowley used the incident as an example of why the city shouldn't cut fire companies, which it has proposed doing to balance the budget.

City Fire Commissioner Nicholas Scopetta has yet to announce the 12 units which are facing closure.

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