Luckily, there were no services going on and, as CBS2’s Carolyn Gusoff reports, there is hope the house of worship can be saved.
The fire broke out around 11 a.m.
Church secretary Wendy Lantigua’s phone began blowing up with messages.
“I think it’s ‘Merry Christmas,’ so I’m not paying attention. And then I look and it’s like, go, go, the church is on fire! Run, run!” she told CBS2’s Carolyn Gusoff.
— Carolyn Gusoff (@GusoffTV) December 25, 2020
Church members came running to find their beloved Good Shepherd Lutheran Church on fire. A fixture on Hempstead Turnpike for 70 years, in America’s first suburb, on land donated by Levitt himself.
Flames poured out of the roof. More than 125 volunteer firefighters quickly brought it under control.
“Unfortunately, it was Christmas Day but we serve every day of the year,” said Chief Al Williams of the Levittown Fire Department.
It appears to have started in a roof exhaust fan from an electrical malfunction. The church below, with its pews and pulpit, was extensively damaged by smoke and water.
“It’s a tragedy. Christmas Day in 2020, of all times, you are looking for good things, and there are good things, but this certainly is very painful,” said Paul Egensteiner, bishop of Good Shepherd Lutheran Church.
“This, on Christmas Day, it rips your heart out,” said church member Peg Baily. “It’s our heart – it’s the heart of the community, it’s the heart of all the congregation that showed up here.”
“It’s heartbreaking. We were just here last night,” said church music director Gail George.
“This is our second family, so this is very devastating to us,” another church member said.
It’s a second home for more than 250 families, who have already vowed to repair and rebuild.
“When you have faith you can rebuild anything,” Lantigua said. “It’s a church building. It’s not where God is. God is here. God is with us.”
Church members stopped by throughout Christmas Day to share their sorrow and see the damage, thankful though that no one was hurt. No one was inside.
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