The Rev. Craig Schaub shows damage to Plymouth Church’s basement: “This is not something we would have wished upon ourselves, but it calls us to look at what we do to serve our community.” MICHAEL DAVIS PHOTO
The congregation that has worshipped at the same location since 1853 will be celebrating its determination to overcome a devastating Mother’s Day flood with a concert featuring Philadelphia area singers Kim and Reggie Harris. The couple, who sing what they call “songs of freedom,” will be joined by the Syracuse Community Choir, the Plymouth Choir and a special children’s choir to support the congregation and its efforts to recover from the flood damage.
A water main burst during church services on May 10. As the basement filled with as much as eight inches of water, firefighters entered the sanctuary and conducted a hasty evacuation. “We didn’t know how high the water would come up,” said the Rev. Craig Schaub. “They said ‘Please get out, calmly, but swiftly.’”
The rising waters wreaked havoc in the basement, damaging a kitchen and gymnasium and flooding the basement day care center, which had provided child care for 37 years. As church leadership contemplated rebuilding their waterlogged classrooms, gymnasium and kitchen, the board of the day care center faced the reality that the facility would not meet modern requirements for accessibility. On July 16, the board announced that Plymouth Day Care would not reopen.
The musical celebration, organizers hope, will spur a flood of support as the congregation seeks to recover and renew its ministry. It is entitled “Wade in the Water: A Benefit for Plymouth Congregational Church. Desserts and Songs for the Spirit” and starts at 7:30 p.m.
Plymouth Church has a long history of social activism going back to its earliest days when it served as a way station for freed slaves making their way to Canada on the Underground Railroad. In more recent times the congregation has been a sanctuary for Central American refugees and undocumented workers. The congregation has been among the most outspoken local organizations in support of gay and lesbian rights, declaring itself in 1996 an “open and affirming” congregation for all lifestyles and sexual orientations. During the Cold War they called themselves a “Just Peace” congregation, committed to, in Schaub’s words, “an intentional struggle for a just peace.”
Today Plymouth’s 250 members are facing a budget deficit in the coming year. The damages to the building, said Schaub, are estimated at more than $230,000. Insurance will cover the cost of much of the damage, including eradicating mold. Additional renovations must be made for the building to keep up with the times and become fully accessible.
Many local institutions such as Jubilee Homes and Open Hand Theater got their start in Plymouth Church, using the facility for office space. Narcotics Anonymous and Alcoholics Anonymous groups have called the church home. It also currently provides office space to the Central New York Worker’s Rights Center and hosts the CNY Gay and Lesbian Chorus.
The concert is being put on with support from the New York State Council on the Arts and the Cultural Resources Council. Tickets are available on a sliding scale basis, from $10 to $50. For more information, contact the church at 474-4836.
“This experience,” noted Schaub, “has caused us to look at who we are and to reprioritize. It has given a new focus to our ministry. This is not something we would have wished upon ourselves, but it calls us to look at what we do to serve our community. There are now new discussions in the church on what it means to be a multiracial, multicultural church.”
Meanwhile, just a few blocks from Plymouth, another faith institution suffered its own calamity. On the afternoon of Thursday, Oct. 8, an explosion rocked the West Onondaga Street building that houses the Ihsan School of Excellence, the city’s only Islamic school. Fire trucks were called to the scene and federal investigators joined with local police to determine the cause of the explosion. “It was an accident,” said school board member Ashraff Attia, who indicated that it may have been a boiler malfunction, shooting steam and debris across the basement and into the upper floors of the school.
Because of the danger of asbestos infiltrating the school’s indoor atmosphere, however, the building has been closed indefinitely. School administrators searched for temporary classrooms in city schools and neighboring churches before settling in temporarily at the Al Huda Mosque on Onondaga Hill. So far no benefit concerts have been planned for Ihsan.