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Hope reborn: After blaze, First Universalist Church of Southold’s congregation votes to rebuild

A beloved Southold church will rise again from the ashes.

A special congregational meeting of the First Universalist Church of Southold was held Sunday at the Custer Institute, to discuss whether the decision would be made to purchase a new church — or to rebuild on the church grounds, according to parishioner Peggy Richards.

The service was headed by Pastor Kimberley Debus; after the normal service and coffee, parishioners headed back to discuss options and then vote.

First, the congregation’s president Dan Durett spoke, and then moderator Jack Speyer took the reins. Members were then given the chance to speak on all sides of the issue.

“There was a good turnout, way more than required for a quorum as provided for in our by-laws,” Richards said. “A few members spoke in favor of buying, specifically the Cutchogue Methodist Church. A number of members spoke about rebuilding at the current on-the-bend location. Two of the youth, one in person and one via e-mail, spoke in favor of building and looking toward the future.”

2015_0316_fire (1)A few people voiced a shared belief that additional information was needed and asked for an adjournment of the vote; a motion to adjourn was made and defeated. Others felt it would be easier to obtain more detailed information once the congregation knew what direction they would be headed.

“When the originally noticed vote was held, it was overwhelmingly in favor of rebuilding on the historic site,” Richards said.

She added, “I was relieved that this decision was made and that we can move forward and I believe that was the general consensus.”

Another congregant, Alan Stewart, agreed: “It’s wonderful to know that Southold will still be the site for our forthcoming, beautiful new church,” he said.

Members of committee were announced; the group will handle the future details of rebuilding. Votes will be taken along the way as design options are weighed and unveiled.

“We are hopeful of a speedy turnaround to get back, to not only our fellowship and having our own, not borrowed, space, but to working with the community as we did before and providing space where needed,” Richards said.

The church, long woven into the fabric of Southold’s rich history, was ravaged by fire in March. Both congregants and the community mourned the unspeakable loss of an iconic structure that held memories for generations of residences.

2015_0323_UniversalistIn May, congregants and the community shared memories and renewed a pledge to rise again from the ashes as they gathered to say good-bye to the church.

Members of the community reflected on what the First Universalist Church meant in their lives. Louise Blackburn described what the church symbolized to her mother and grandmother and said the church stood as a bastion of stability during her own darkest hours.

When his wife died, Charles Michel, who lives just down the street, said First Universalist was where he held her service. “The church,” he said, “had a dignity, a Norman Rockwell-ian charm.” When the couple first moved to Southold, the church was a haven for their young family, with three children. On the bend, the church opened its doors to all. “They didn’t care what you did or didn’t believe in,” he said. “They were accepting, welcoming.”

And, he said, “I hope they get this thing rebuilt. Otherwise, I’ll have to postpone my demise. I hope to see it rise like a phoenix again.”

2015_0315_FIREBIGFormer First Universalist Church of Southold’s Pastor Jeff Gamblee, giving his farewell thoughts, decided to quote Yoda: “The memories are strong in that one.”

Drawing the service to a close after leading those in attendance in a litany, he said, “We bid the building at the bend farewell. Let us pledge to move forward.”