54° Good Afternoon
54° Good Afternoon
Long IslandSuffolk

Elders of burned Yaphank church salvage relics, look to future

A member of the Yaphank Presbyterian Church congregation

A member of the Yaphank Presbyterian Church congregation examines a damaged piano inside the church after a fire destroyed the historic sanctuary on Main Street. (Dec. 9, 2013) Credit: James Carbone

A day after a fire ripped through the historic Yaphank Presbyterian Church, its leaders sifted through the ashes, pulled out pieces of the silver communion set and remembered what can't be replaced.

The original pews that were destroyed had been cut at the local lumber mill. The builders had carved their names inside a door frame.

Church board members said Monday they want to rebuild the 1851 church, but aren't sure yet if the building structurally can be saved.

"To us, it was more than a building," said Gary Ralph, 56, of Yaphank, a fifth-generation member of the church and board member. "I was baptized in the church. My mother taught Sunday school at the church."

A fire ignited in the church early Sunday and burned for 21/2 hours before firefighters brought it under control. Much of the inside of the building was destroyed. Fire officials told church members they believe the cause is an old heating pipe that had a small hole in it.

Ralph said firefighters rushed into the church while it was still burning to save an old family Bible dating to the 1870s and the large Bible that was on the pulpit, which a member had donated in the 1940s.

David Moreland, 48 of Yaphank, another church board member, called it a "personal goal" to have the church reopened by Christmas Eve 2014, but said he knows it will be difficult to meet that deadline. The church's first service was on Christmas Eve 1851.

Moreland said that the whole structure of the once-postcard-perfect church might have to be torn down.

"I don't know if physically it's too far gone," he said.

An insurance adjuster will be out Tuesday to inspect the damage.

In the meantime, the church will be holding services in a building it owns up a hill behind the church.

Other congregations have donated Bibles and hymnals to the church. "Truly, it's a brotherhood of fellow churches," Ralph said.

Church officials are still hoping to get an electronic keyboard so they can have music at their services.

All of the food in the food pantry was lost; a closet full of Christmas gifts for the needy that was being kept in the church's basement also burned up.

But Ralph and Moreland counted the church's blessings.

The church's historical records, including baptisms and marriages, had been backed up digitally in the past year, and the owner of the local German deli donated $300 Monday to restart the church's food pantry.

"This is the type of community we live in," Moreland said.

Latest Long Island News