After six months of repairs, historic church to reopen on Christmas Eve


First Congregational Church of Riverhead on East Main Street is the recipient of a Christmas miracle.

The grand white church will open its doors once again on Thursday, just in time for a Christmas Eve service. 

Members of the congregation have spent the past six months worshipping in a neighboring fellowship hall while the church building — built in 1908 — underwent repairs.

“It’s down to the wire,” said the Rev. Sean Murray, the congregation’s pastor, in a statement, “but with thanks to a team of volunteers, the members and friends of our church, it really looks like God will grace us with a wonderful Christmas present.”

The church building suffered severe structural damage earlier this year when the roof began to collapse. The sanctuary has been closed since May to undergo repairs, said Jim Wooten, who is in his second year as chairman of trustees at the church.

Mr. Wooten agreed with the Rev. Murray’s sentiments, calling Christmas Eve a perfect day to reopen.

“I can’t wait,” he said. “I’ve been a member of the church for 45 years and it means so much to me. To see it the way it was was heartbreaking. But now to see it starting to really come together and get back together and all that … it’s a warm, fuzzy feeling, to be honest with you.”

After being covered in scaffolding towers and wooden beams for half the year, the interior work, done by RC Construction of Calverton, was recently completed. Carpet cleaners are now working inside the church, and the pews that are being stored at the vacant Papa John’s across the street are expected to return to the sanctuary on Wednesday.

Since the interior work on the roof and pulling in the walls is complete, the sanctuary will remain open after the holidays. However, Mr. Wooten said there is still much work that needs to be done to the 107-year-old building.

“We’ve got the outside to do,” he said. “We’ve got some stooping to do, some new sewer lines we have to run. There’s lots we have to do, so the capital campaign will continue on for a couple more years to raise the funds to finish the work.”

As of Monday afternoon, the church’s capital campaign GoFundMe page had raised $7,590 of its $250,000 goal.

“A lot of the community, a lot of businesses and a lot of supporters of the community have really stepped up to help us,” Mr. Wooten said. “We can’t thank them enough.”

A candlelight service will be held at 8 p.m. Christmas Eve. Everyone is invited to attend.

Photo Caption: The roof at the First Congregational Church being held up by wooden towers earlier this year. (Credit: Nicole Smith, file)

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