Rochester NY Church to be rebuilt after devastating fire on Christmas Day


Built in the 1800s, the Jefferson Avenue Seventh-day Adventist Church is a spiritual and physical part of its community. The large brick building is visible from afar and its parishioners are visible in the community, as volunteers and workers, in an effort to live out the church’s mission to reach the Greater Rochester area with a message of hope and fullness centered in Christ.

Christmas Day was no different.

Members of the tight-knit congregation gathered and held their church service that afternoon. When they left, they did so on the assumption that they would return at some point in the week to participate in the various ministries of the church.

Then the call came.

“We learned that there was a fire in the building,” said Angela Tucker-Hill, director of communications. “By the time the fire department arrived, it was a four-alarm fire going off.”

The badly damaged Jefferson Avenue Seventh-day Adventist Church was seen on Monday, December 27, 2021 in Rochester.  The church was almost destroyed by fire on Christmas night.

Although the building was overrun by city fire and rescue companies and support units, the massive fire destroyed the historic church building. But, while the physical building is in urgent need of repair, the spirit of the church survives.

“I’m sure you’ve heard the (Psalm), ‘Crying may last a night, but joy comes in the morning,'” Tucker-Hill said. “So we are looking forward to the joy-seeking stage and looking forward to the joy phase to come. “

Historic building

The badly damaged Jefferson Avenue Seventh-day Adventist Church was seen on Monday, December 27, 2021 in Rochester.  The church was almost destroyed by fire on Christmas night.

The fire investigation is ongoing, but the church hopes to receive answers about the cause soon. In the meantime, they find comfort in the fact that no one was killed or seriously injured in the blaze.

The building itself dates back to the 1800s, Tucker-Hill said. Jefferson Ave Seventh Day Adventist acquired the old school building in 1940. The congregation was initially relatively small – only about ten families. But over the years the membership has grown and expanded. In the 1990s, Tucker-Hill estimated there were around 500 members. This century, Jefferson Ave. The Seventh-day Adventist church congregation began to decline, says Tucker-Hill, in large part because members have moved away.

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After the fire, however, these members reached out.

“A lot of those people who had moved, through our various social media sites, saw the devastation that took place,” Tucker-Hill said. “They reached out and tried to find the best way to help us. So even though there are fewer of us now, we still have a family unit that spans across the United States as well as other countries. “


Snow is falling on the heavily damaged Jefferson Avenue Seventh-day Adventist Church as seen Monday, December 27, 2021 in Rochester.  The church was almost destroyed by fire on Christmas night.

Just two days before the fire, Sister Rosa Wims celebrated her 99th birthday. During this time, she and other church members, many of whom have been members for 50 years or more, reflected on the growth of the church. Since the fire, these memories have become a balm for church members.

“Sister Wims has a strong history in the community, she has a strong connection to the church itself,” said Tucker-Hill. “You just have to hear him reflect on the memories of all the things we have done over the years in the community. “

Tucker-Hill says the event left a hole in the community – and if the number of community programs the church offers is any indication, she’s right.

The community service center accommodates the ministries of family, men and women, through which people can receive free clothes, shoes, household items, small appliances and other items to help families.

“The Church That Gives,” as it is called, offers items on Tuesdays, Thursdays and in emergencies at no cost to the community.

The church also has a holiday Bible school; a two-week children’s day camp. In addition, the church holds wellness fairs, during which people have access to medical services that they usually do not have access to, such as blood pressure checks and health exams. The church works closely with the dental department at the Jordan Health Center.

It is also, says Tucker-Hill, “a training ground for evangelism.” People come just to pray or to receive prayer.

“We try to be the hands and feet of Jesus by finding tangible ways to give back and touch the hearts and minds of those we come in contact with,” Tucker-Hill said.

Rebuild the church

The congregation had held hybrid church services throughout the pandemic, led by Pastor Hanson Drysdale. In a way, the pandemic prepared them not to be able to meet in person now.

The church will continue to use platforms like Zoom, Facebook and Youtube for its weekly worship services until it can meet again in a building.

“We don’t have a timeline for when this will happen, but we are currently using technology to our advantage and making sure our church family stays together and stays connected and can always come together and worship,” Tucker -Hill mentioned.

50 years ago last Thanksgiving, the Jefferson Avenue Seventh-day Adventist Church opened its doors to the Mt. Vernon Baptist Missionary Church congregation after being damaged in an unsuccessful bombing raid. never been resolved.

Bombings of 1971:Rochester congregation reflects on unsolved 1971 Thanksgiving bombing

Now, just as the church community came together to support Mt. Vernon half a century ago, the community has come to care and support Jefferson Ave. SDA.

“We are also very happy for the faith community,” said Tucker-Hill. “We have had a number of Sunday worshiping churches that have extended the olive branch and donated their buildings to us, so we are exploring those opportunities.”

Last weekend, they found drone footage of the building, allowing them to really see the extent of the damage. The costs of repairing such a large historic structure don’t come cheap – the church is trying to raise $ 250,000. Community members can help by donating to the church’s GoFundMe or by donating through their website, There are also other ways of giving.

“We’re looking for financial help, but not just financial help,” Tucker-Hill said. “There may be contractors who are willing to donate materials, be it paint or wood. We accept materials, whatever people are willing to give, we are open to receive and pray. God for those who offer it. “

Adria R. Walker covers Public Education for the Democrat and Columnist in partnership with Report for America. Follow her on Twitter at @adriawalkr or email him at [email protected] You can support his work with a tax-deductible donation to Report for America.


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