Cleveland: Historic church demolished due to fire

9:30 AM, Mar 24, 2010   |    comments
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The Euclid Avenue Congregational Church of the United Church of Christ was gutted by the Tuesday morning fire, which may have been caused by a lightning strike. Only the sandstone walls remained standing.

Euclid Avenue between East 96th and East 100th eastbound will be closed until the demolition is completed.

East 96th from Carnegie to Euclid will also be closed until the remnants of the structure are torn down.

The historic church, which was built in 1867, sits next to the Cleveland Clinic.  The Clinic was forced to move about eight patients to safe locations due to the fire.

The church was founded in 1843, but the congregation traces its roots to the 1820's, while the Romanesque style building was dedicated in 1867.

"It is in fact one of the historical churches of the United Church of Christ," said Rev. Felix Carrion, who pastored the congregation for about five years before leaving for another assignment in 2008.

"For a long time it was the church that many people attended, many families attended," he told WKYC. "In its heyday it probably had over 15-hundred members."

Tuesday night church members gathered at a nearby house of worship to reflect on the day behind them, and focus on what lies ahead.

"You probably all woke up to the same, terrible news," said interim pastor Terri Young.  "The shocking news that the church bldg was gone."

"Our worship space that we all love, and all the treasures of the decades have now turned to dust and ashes,"  she said.

The church plans to rebuild from those ashes, but at this point they aren't sure where.   Less than 24-hours since the blaze, the pressing question isn't 'when', but 'why'.

The church has such a long and important history that its documents were transferred to the Western Reserve Historical Society in the 1970's. The WRHS can document nearly every aspect of the church's history and its predecessors dating back to 1822.

The church was said to be a stop on the underground railroad in the days of the abolitionist movement. It grew out of a Sunday school established in the 1820's by Sally Cozad Mather Hale.

Euclid Avenue Congregational Church was also one of the first churches in Cleveland to be fully racially integrated. Maria Kaiser joined as a member in 1971.

"That was part of its strength," she said of the church's welcome to people of all races, "and it refused to move out to the suburbs when this community changed."

Cheryl Wacasey joined the church in 1967, as a 13-year-old. She now directs the church's Saturday programs for young people. Wacasey was optimistic the congregation would continue its work.

"My heart is broken but I know that we are going to rebuild and I know we are going to be stronger," she said. "We are a strong church. We have so much faith."

Church membership, ministers, and leaders met Tuesday night at a nearby church to assess the damage and to make immediate plans for carrying on in the face of the tragedy. They have been offered worship space at the headquarters of the United Church of Christ in downtown Cleveland.

"The United Church of Christ will support them," said Rev. Carrion. "And I would say let their vision guide them into the future. God is present to all of us and God is present in the deepest, deepest valley that we go through."

WKYC-TV/The Associated Press

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