UPDATED: Historic Long Island church gutted by fire on June 18

By Melodie Woerman
Posted Jun 20, 2023

The interior of the Church of the Messiah, Central Islip, New York, was gutted by fire on June 18. Photo: Facebook

Editor’s Note: This story was updated on June 21  to include the cause of the fire. 

[Episcopal News Service] A Long Island church building that housed the Church of the Messiah in Central Islip, New York, and dated to the Civil War was gutted by a multiple-alarm fire in the early morning hours of Sunday, June 18. An electrical fire started the blaze, according to investigators.

While the building exterior still stands, the interior sustained “catastrophic” damage from fire, smoke and water, according to a post on the Diocese of Long Island’s Facebook page. The post thanked the Central Islip Fire Department “for their quick response and actions attempting to save the church building,” noting that the cause hasn’t yet been determined.

The post said that Bishop Lawrence Provenzano arrived on the scene early Sunday morning along with the diocesan director of facilities, who contacted Church Insurance and arranged for the building to be secured. It added, “Bishop Provenzano gathered with the congregation on the lawn for prayer, reminding them that they are the church, the building can be replaced. He then outlined what next steps will be taken to support them through this tragedy.”

Warden Sandra Townsend talks with a local television station about the fire that gutted the Church of the Messiah. Photo: Screenshot

WABC-TV in New York reported  the fire started about 2 a.m. and brought firefighters from seven fire departments to help.

Sandra Townsend, a warden at the church, told the station that if the fire had happened “six hours or eight hours later, we would have all been in there, and there’s no telling what could have happened to us.” WABC said that church members today mostly are African American and from the Caribbean and had planned a big Juneteenth celebration after church that day.

CBS News in New York reported that the building had been built during the Civil War and had been moved several blocks to its current location in 1923.

Denise Fillion, Long Island’s director of communications, told Episcopal News Service the congregation plans to worship in its parish hall, a building separate from the church, in coming weeks.

–Melodie Woerman is a freelance writer and former director of communications for the Diocese of Kansas.