WESTPORT, Conn. (CBSNewYork) — For nearly 180 years, the Saugatuck Congregational Church has stood.

On Monday there was shock and disbelief after fire severely damaged the church a few days before the Thanksgiving holiday. However, there was a vow to rebuild in the face of disaster outside the structure that first opened its doors when Andrew Jackson was president, reports CBS 2’s Lou Young.

WCBS 880 Connecticut Bureau Chief Fran Schneidau On The Story

The historic church went up in flames late Sunday night and burned well into the new day. There were no injuries, but it was a painful loss all the same.

“We were just crying and watching the building burn. It was just utter shock, utter shock,” parishioner Abbie Peterson said.

It’s a disaster not only for the people who attend the church but also for the thousands of people who use the facility every day. There’s a nursery school and various 12-step programs that meet at the church, as well as the huge community dinners it holds, including the one scheduled for Thursday.

“It is a major community event. There would be roughly 300 people that would come here and it is wide-open to the community. We’ll just have to find another place to do it,” church trustee John Walsh said.

“We have church members. We have community members. We have homeless individuals, and those who just want to share our meal,” feast organizer Mary Anne West told WCBS 880 Connecticut Bureau Chief Fran Schneidau.

The fire consumed the kitchen where the Thanksgiving feast was to be prepared, and the hall where it was to be served. It appears the blaze started near a gas line, but the precise cause has not yet been determined. The flames were so intense firefighters at first thought it was a lost cause.

“I thought we were going to lose to be honest with you. Yeah absolutely,” Westport Fire Chief Andrew Kingsbury said.

Somehow firefighters managed to keep the flames out of the main sanctuary in a battle that lasted nearly six hours, something to give thanks for when the annual Thanksgiving feast is held at a neighboring church on Thursday — an offer made and accepted late Monday.

“This building is important to them, but it’s not all of who they are. The people are the church,” United Church of Christ Rev. Sarah Verasco said.

And the church has survived.

West said offers of help are pouring in.

“It will go forward. It will be at a different site, but the Thanksgiving feast is something the community needs now more than ever,” she said.

Renovations totaling $2 million had just been made to a portion of the church.

Financial donations are still needed to help replace the cookware lost in the fie. Checks can be made out to The Saugatuck Congregational Church, earmarked “feast.” They can be sent to 245 Post Road East, Westport, CT 06880.

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