A chorus of emotional cheers rang out as New York’s Liberty Bell emerged from the ashes of Middle Collegiate Church Wednesday morning.
To Rev. Jacqui Lewis seeing the bell intact is a symbol of fortitude. Although on Dec. 5, 2020, a six-alarm fire demolished the East 7th Street house of worship known for their inclusion of the LGBTQ+ community, both the church’s facade and the bell, which rang in 1776 in celebration of the nation’s independence from British rule, remains intact amidst adversity, something Rev. Lewis says encapsulates her congregation.
“We are still standing. We say that although the fire burned down much of our sanctuary, the place where the love resides, the place where justice resides is inside of us. We are the sanctuary, and we survived,” Rev. Lewis said, adding, “We are resilient, and the bell symbolizes resilience, and it symbolizes tenacity.”
The removal process is no easy feat, though. After the Director of the Department of Buildings Tim Lynch found the bell undamaged by the fire, the way in which to remove it from the ruins required meticulous planning and a lot of manpower. The first step was to ensure the site was stabilized with metal bars since certain areas have withered due to the extreme heat from the blaze. The process needed two cranes, one to lift workmen up the burned structure where they attached reinforced rope to the Liberty Bell and a second to hoist it from the window and to the sidewalk below.
As it emerged from the steeple, onlookers, who had gathered to witness the momentous occasion, unleashed a rousing round of applause while Rev. Lewis became overwhelmed with emotion, embracing Amanda Hambrick Ashcraft, the executive minister for Middle Collegiate Church.
The bell is set to be transported to the New York Historical Society where it will be placed on display at an exhibition and viewed by New Yorkers and tourists alike while Middle Collegiate Church begins the rebuilding process. Additionally, Rev. Lewis shared that she will curate the exhibit and it will remain at the New York Historical Society for the 20th anniversary of the 911 memorial.
Rev. Lewis told amNewYork Metro that Middle Collegiate Church will be reconstructed, but in order to make that happen, she says they will need to raise more funds.
“Our emotion, our heart and our mind all want to rebuild on the site so that is how we are proceeding, the back end of the site will become our program building, so we are trying to figure out how much we need to demolish. Of course, we need to raise funds to make this happen, our insurance was good but not good enough to rebuild,” Rev. Lewis said, adding, “We are looking at what kind of plan we can create that will make the church both our sacred place, but even more fully a community center.”
Before the bell was transported to its temporary home at 77th Street and Central Park West, Rev. Lewis marked the occasion by striking the celebrated bell 19 times in honor of liberty.
“This bell rang for the inaugurations of presidents. It rang for the death of Michael Brown. I’m almost positive we rang it on the day of the Pulse shooting,” Rev. Lewis said, describing how the Middle Collegiate church stands up for justice and inclusivity for all.