The congregation of the First Universalist Church of Southold normally meets every Sunday morning at 10:30 a.m. to worship.
This Sunday, their church in a pile of smoking rubble, they will meet to mourn and put words to their wrenching grief, after a fire ravaged their house of worship Saturday night.
“I’m devastated,” said Pastor Jeff Gamblee. “It’s a profound, almost inarticulable loss. I’m working on giving words to something that aches so deeply in my heart. I’m not sure where the words are.”
Gamblee said he was at his Staten Island home when he got the call last night that the church on Main Road was burning.
“I jumped in the car and I drove out got here at two in the morning, just in time to see the front face of building where the big doors were, to see that knocked down, because there was no support. The rest of the building was totaled,” he said.
Gamblee, who has been pastor for a year and a half, said while the church itself has stood since 1860, the congregation has existed in Southold since 1835.
“It’s a big part of Southold’s history,” he said.
No decisions have been made yet on whether or not the church will be rebuilt; the church board and congregation will have to come to that decision themselves, he said.
A meeting of the congregation will take place at 10:30 a.m. this morning at the Custer Institute on Main Bayview Road.
“We will gather to mourn,” Gamblee said. “People are feeling pretty stunned.”
Peggy Richards, who has been living at the parsonage since her Greenport home was destroyed by fire last month, stood in the dark night watching her beloved church burn to the ground, a church that has been her haven after losing everything.
“This time, I’m crying,” she said last night.
Gamblee said Richards and her partner Ken MacAlpin were allowed back into the parsonage last night but the gas had been turned off since it shared a common line with the church.
A beautiful organ at the church had just been refurbished, and a new floor put in the parish hall, all within the last three months. The organ was “tuned and spruced up” by a local company who “did a fabulous job,” Gamblee said. “We’ve only been able to enjoy our newly refurbished organ for three weeks,” Gamblee said.
Sunday’s gathering, he said, will give people a change to allow people to put voice to the tragedy, “to listen to one another, to tell stories of how we felt when we got the call, to listen, to meet and to mourn.”
Peter Young, a member of the church, stood outside, watching smoke rise from the ruins early Sunday morning. “It’s terrible,” he said. “It’s hard to put into words.”