Early Sunday morning, firefighters rushed to put out a two-alarm blaze at the Church of St. Luke and St. Matthew, located on the border between Prospect Heights and Fort Greene. Investigators believe that someone poured gasoline around the building's front doors — two canisters were found nearby — and lit the fire at around 3:30 in the morning. Three Occupy Sandy volunteers were asleep inside at the time (the church has served as one of the movement's headquarters since the hurricane), but no injuries were reported.
"The Rev. Christopher Ballard, the church’s curate, said the flames had caused “significant damage,” burning the wooden doors of two entrances and charring the foyer. The sanctuary, he said, remained largely unscathed. No one was injured.
Though the police said the cause remained under investigation, Father Ballard said the fire had been fueled by a pair of gasoline containers donated to Occupy Sandy volunteers, who had used the church as a staging area for hurricane relief efforts. The gasoline was intended to be used in a generator for a Christmas party in the Rockaways on Sunday night. Father Ballard said the containers had been put outside when the church was cleared of most donated materials to make way for Christmas services.
“Somebody decided to take those canisters, dump them on the doors of the church and set the gas on fire,” he said. “We don’t know why someone would do this, what darkness is in someone’s heart.”
Father Ballard noted that the church had been rebuilt after a devastating fire in 1914. Councilwoman Letitia James, who represents the area, expressed outrage at what she called a hateful arson. “We will find the sick individual who committed this crime,” she said, standing outside the church."
100 firefighters worked to put out the blaze.
Members of the congregation were worried for what the church contained: supplies and Christmas gifts for New Yorkers affected by Hurricane Sandy.
Since the storm struck on October 29, thousands of volunteers, included members of the Occupy Sandy movement, have come to the church to be part of relief efforts.
On Saturday, a group of volunteers wrapped holiday gifts for children affected by Sandy at the church.
"We had about 100 volunteers in the church yesterday, wrapping gifts for children who were displaced by the storm," said Michael Sniffen, the church's rector.
"We've been sending people out to affected areas. We're sending out hot food and clothes, blankets, cleaning supplies, baby supplies, baby food, baby toys," said LJ Marquez, an Occupy Sandy volunteer.
Church members and volunteers said the fire will not hinder their efforts. On Sunday, volunteers were sent to another site, St. John's Episcopal Church in Fort Hamilton.
The Sandy volunteers have pledged to work 7 days a week during the holidays to continue to bring hot meals to Sandy victims in Brooklyn, Queens and Staten Island.
Volunteers who want to help Occupy Sandy can go to one of the group's bases, with no need to call beforehand. For more information, visit interoccupy.net/occupysandy.
The Church of St. Luke And St. Matthew will reopen for Christmas Eve services at 10 PM and Christmas Day services at 10 AM on December 25th.
Occupy Sandy will not be taking donations until after December 27th, as was previously scheduled.