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Fire Damages Historic Queens Church

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TWC News: Fire Damages Historic Queens Church
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Investigators are looking for the cause of an early-morning fire Tuesday that gutted an historic church in Queens.

Flames broke out at the United Methodist Church on 58th Avenue in Maspeth at around 4:30 a.m.

Three firefighters suffered minor injuries.

"They made an initial attack from the interior," explained FDNY Deputy Assistant Chief John Sudnik, "but because there was a large volume of fire and these types of buildings and churches, with the layout and the difficult fire conditions, the incident commander at scene decided to pull units out for safety reasons."

The flames destroyed the building, which has been at the site since 1907. The church was established in 1854.

"I said, 'What's happening?' I thought, it's not the building; it's not the church building!" said Pastor Avelio DeLeon.

In recent years, the church's congregation had dwindled to about 20 people and DeLeon is retiring in just a few weeks. With the church now gutted, he does not know what the future holds.

“I'm sad," said Deleon, who has been the church's pastor for 14 years. "I don't know what happens after this."

The members who remain are devoted to the community. Ruth and Paul Shklanko have been at Maspeth United Methodist for 55 years; their children were baptized and married there.

"This breaks my heart. I don't want to cry anymore," said Ruth Shlanko. "Just the memories that we had in there, I just can't believe it."

Edward Bielen, who heads the church's finance committee, said he was devastated by the news of the fire.

"My stomach is still in knots, not feeling so good because I know the longevity of this church; it's more than 100 years old," said Bielen. "So it's not a good feeling."

"It may have dwindled in the congregation, but they had the Girl Scouts here, alcoholics anonymous had been here since I moved in, in 1977," said Catherine Santamaria who lived next door to the church. "It's a part of the community."

Pastor DeLeon 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.

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