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The Post Standard/Herald-Journal

La Iglesia de Dios en Nueva York Celebrates Rebirth; Syracuse Congregation Marks Reopening With Service

Luis Perez, Staff writer

December 6, 2003
Copyright ©2003 Bell & Howell Information and Learning Company. All rights reserved.

How to help

The Church of God in New York, or La Iglesia de Dios en Nueva York, holds a special service at 7 p.m. today to celebrate renovations to its sanctuary. The church is still seeking donations to repair other parts of the building. Donations can be sent to Church of God in New York, c/o Rev. Moises Rivera Sr., 108 Grace St., Syracuse, N.Y. 13204.

The small, poor congregation of mostly Spanish speakers at the Church of God in New York is moving up this week.

The 75-member church at 108 Grace St. on Syracuse's Near West Side is celebrating renovations that turned the first floor's abandoned, dank and dark sanctuary into a brightly lit, refurbished place of worship. Church officials marked the congregation's move from the basement of the former St. Paul's Evangelical Lutheran Church building to the renovated sanctuary with a series of services this week.

The celebration culminates today when hundreds of worshippers, some from as far as Puerto Rico, Philadelphia, Connecticut and New Jersey, are expected to descend on the towering Gothic church at Grace and Oswego streets and Merriman Avenue.

"We're celebrating our victory," said the Rev. Moises Rivera Sr., pastor of the church whose worshippers call it La Iglesia de Dios en Nueva York.

That victory was a long time in coming. Church officials rented storefronts on Seymour and Oswego streets after founding the congregation in 1976. They shared space with other churches, including the basement at St. Paul's.

"But we always had a goal," Rivera said. "And that goal was to have our own place."

St. Paul's dwindling membership forced Lutheran church officials to sell the building in 1993. They offered it to Rivera's church for $25,000. With savings of about $15,000 and donations from church members, friends and the community, the Church of God in New York purchased the building Dec. 15, 1993, he said.

Back then, church members helped refurbish the basement by repairing the floor, bathrooms and furnace. They brought down the old, wooden pews from upstairs. For 10 years, the church called the basement home, always with an eye toward the first floor.

Pre-renovation pictures show the first floor's walls with cracking, peeling paint, a decrepit altar and boarded-up windows.

With a predominantly low-income congregation, it took church officials years to raise the needed money to start repairs upstairs.

In 2002, the same volunteer and work ethic that created a worship hall in the basement helped repair the church's leaky roof after a contractor left the job half finished, Rivera said. "We had to do it ourselves," he said.

Interior work started once church members repaired the roof. Volunteers started inside the church July 13, Rivera said. They finished the job, worth about $50,000, last Sunday.

The sanctuary in the old gray building now sports a new heating and air conditioning system, including a new furnace.

Renovations include new bathrooms, flooring, freshly painted walls and electrical work, Rivera said.

The smell of fresh paint wafts under the bright lights workers installed in the sanctuary.

Rows of brand new wooden pews welcome worshippers.

Next to the new altar is a big screen connected to a computer.

Church officials plan to use a PowerPoint presentation to show pictures from before, during and after the renovations.

About 20 people worked on the construction, Rivera said.

Many more who didn't have those skills cooked to feed those workers, cleaned and did other jobs, he said.

Ezequiel Rivera and his nephew, Ariel Rivera, who are no relation to the pastor, helped with construction work.

Wednesday, they still wore working clothes with paint and plaster stains on them.

The soft-spoken Ezequiel Rivera downplayed his effort.

"Bonito," he said when asked to describe the new sanctuary. That means "beautiful."

Micky Mulero, who came from Puerto Rico, and Carlos Sanchez, a preacher from Allentown, Pa., sat in the new church pews this week.

They came to help the small congregation celebrate its big feat.

They see the work of God in the refurbished sanctuary, they said.

The Rev. Nelson Gaetz, dean of the Central Crossroads Conference of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, worked with the Rev. Moises Rivera Sr. to sell him the old building.

"We're delighted to see an active ministry out of that grand, old sanctuary," he said.

The building has a history of helping poor immigrants, many of them Russian and Germans displaced during World War II, Gaetz said.

For years, services at the church were held only in German.

Gaetz said it was gratifying to see the building continue to serve.

Services in former German church are now held in Spanish.

"I had confidence in them right from the beginning," Gaetz said. "They were so committed to their church."

Rivera is grateful for what church members have accomplished, he said.

But they're not done. The building needs a lot more work.

They hope to renovate other parts of the huge building and maybe share the space with another congregation or community agency, Rivera said.

To do that, he is soliciting more donations, he said.

"People used to call us the church in the basement," Rivera said.

That's no longer the case.

The small congregation has moved to a new home above ground and new sanctuary.

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