The big white steeple of the Fist Congregational Church has towered over East Main Street for more than a century. It is a town-designated landmark that houses generations of memories of weddings and holidays. It houses the only soup kitchen in Riverhead, serving warm meals to the needy three nights every week.
But the church’s roof nearly collapsed last month. The historic building’s east wall was never reinforced to handle the weight from the roof, so after years of pressure, the wall began pressing outward. The roof’s support system started to crumble under the weight.
And it would have come caving down into the sanctuary, causing unimaginable damage to the church’s interior, if a construction crew had not gotten there in time. The very same day that Calverton-based RC Construction finished building emergency wooden support towers to prevent a total collapse, the 25-foot ceiling of the church came down and rested on the towers.
“We basically avoided a complete [roof] failure by just a day,” said Ron Blake, the church’s chairman of building and grounds. “We would have lost the whole building.”
The sanctuary has now been transformed into a construction zone. Dust hangs in the light cast by the huge stained glass windows as hammers bang and power tools whir. The four wooden support towers are the only things keeping the historic building standing.
“We avoided what could have been a total catastrophe,” said James Wooten, trustee chairman of the church.
The cost of stabilizing and restoring the church’s roof will be more than $400,000. Additional repairs and restoration efforts will cost an additional $100,000. “We’re looking at more than $500,000 worth of work here,” Blake said. “That’s a lot of money for a congregation with about 70 active members.”
The church is seeking the community’s support to help keep one of downtown Riverhead’s landmark buildings standing.
“We’re hoping that the people around us will rally to support us,” said Reverend Sean Murray, “so that we can stand strong as a beacon of hope so that people can continue to find what they truly need here.”
A GoFundMe page has been set up for online donations. Murray says the church is planning to organize additional fundraisers to drum up the money for the repairs.
“We know we’re making a difference here,” he said. “We’re feeding the hungry. We’re giving hope to the hopeless. This has been a place of recovery and renewal. This has been a place of spiritual welfare for so many.”
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