Several local elected officials, the clergy and community leaders have decried the suspicious arson of the offices of a popular church in Brooklyn.
The Byways and Hedges church is known throughout the community for its efforts in addressing violence prevention, immigration reform, youth empowerment, domestic violence, spiritual care and crisis intervention.
On Aug. 5, sometime between 9:30 p.m. and 10:00 p.m., a fire damaged the building at 846 Utica Ave., Brooklyn that housed the church’s youth ministry and other services, such as Community Concerns Network Inc., Immigrants Responding to Crisis and The Real Life Times community newspaper.
As a result, the church’s Jamaican-born founder and president, the Rev. Dr. Terry Lee, who has been serving the community for more than 20 years, is now left without an office.
In a strong show of support on Friday, fellow clergy, elected officials and community leaders came together at a press conference to condemn what they described as “this suspected act of destruction,” urging anyone with information to come forward immediately.
“The Byways and Hedges Church and its founder, Rev. Dr. Terry Lee, have long embodied the spirit of servant leadership in East Flatbush,” said Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams.
“Now, as one Brooklyn, we need to embrace this congregation with the same love and support in their hour of need,” he added.
Jamaican-born Assemblyman N. Nick Perry (D-58th AD), said the suspected arson is “a tragedy for the entire East Flatbush community.
“Rev. Terry Lee and his congregation worked tirelessly to spread the word of God and improve the quality of life of all who live in the community,” he said, adding that the tragedy is “compounded by the fact his fire may have been set intentionally, thus disrupting the good work of the By Ways and Hedges family.
“Given their tremendous faith, resolve and passion, I am confident though that Rev. Terry Lee and By Ways and Hedges will rebuild and continue on their path of providing an overwhelming spirit of charity and compassion,” Perry continued.
Sen. Kevin Parker (D-21st S.D.) said he, too, was “saddened to learn of the fire that burned By-ways and Hedges Church in my district and am equally grateful that no one was injured.
“This is a tragedy for our community and our friend, the church’s founding pastor Terry Lee,” he said.
“I know his faith and support from the community, including my office, will sustain him through these questionable days,” Parker added. “As he has worked tirelessly to provide immigration, housing, domestic violence prevention and other work to Brooklyn residents, our community will galvanize to ensure By-ways is rebuilt stronger to continue its Godly service.”
Members of the 67th Precinct Clergy Council said, “it is so sad that a solid community church like Byways and Hedges has been destroyed by what we are calling an act of terrorism.”
This church and Rev. Terry Lee have been a great resource for the community for so many years,” they said in a statement.
“We are hoping that the FDNY (Fire Department of New York) and NYPD (New York Police Department) will bring whoever is responsible for this tragedy to swift justice,” they added. “Houses of worship are sacred places in our community, and should remain so.”
Members of Churches United to Save and Heal (CUSH) also expressed dismay over the tragedy.
“What is even more disturbing is the fact that it appears to be a deliberate fire,” said Bishop Orlando Findlayter, president of CUSH. “We stand with Pastor Terry and will support him as he rebuilds.
“He has served the community for years, and we urge the community to now serve him and assist in the rebuilding process,” he added.
Rev. Lee told Caribbean Life he was utterly devastated by the unexpected fire.
“It’s so hard right now not having the financial capital to re-start,” he said. “Everything has been destroyed. I’ve been in the location for over 10 years. You can see that the fire was deliberately set. It’s a crisis that we’re in.”
He said several bibles in his office and other equipment and personal information for parishioners and community members were destroyed and stolen.
“It looks like somebody said, ‘burn them out and let them get out of here,’” said Rev. Lee, adding that police are investigating the incident. “It’s mind-boggling and nerve-wrecking, too.
“Right now, I need financial assistance,” he continued. “I don’t even have an office space to work out of. Everything is gone. So we’re pleading for help from any well wishers out there.”
Anyone interested in helping to rebuild Byways and Hedges Church can visit www.bywaysandhedges.net, click on donate; or call Rev. Lee at (917) 855-5594, or Dr. Annmarie Taylor-Myers at (718) 909-2030 or (347) 569-0880.