Burst Sewer Pipe Displaces Adventist
Congregation in Utica, New York

Karen Seventh-day Adventist Church now homeless, seeking answers (Posted August 21, 2013)

BY JANELLE COLLINS, Adventist Review intern

A 100-member Adventist congregation in upstate New York was suddenly displaced from its home when a city-maintained sewer pipe burst in late May. Now the Karen Seventh-day Adventist Church, in Utica, New York, comprised of refugees from Myanmar, is itself homeless and seeking a permanent location.

“The city has now said that the rest of the building is not safe,” Gary Wagner, the congregation’s pastor, said in a telephone interview. Utica officials had first taken down only one part of the building, which contained the classrooms, youth chapel, and restrooms, he noted.

“When they came and looked at the rest of the building, they said there was another part of it that they didn’t trust, and it would [also] have to come down,” Wagner said.

CHURCH UNUSABLE: City workers at the 900 Bleecker Street, Utica, New York, church that until recently was home to the Karen Burmese Seventh-day Adventist Church. Damage from a ruptured sewer line rendered the structure unusable, and the congregation is waiting to see what will happen next. [PHOTO: Mark Diorio/Utica Observer-Dispatch]
The bursting of the sewer pipe—something for which the church was in no way responsible—created an unusual situation in terms of potential compensation, he added.

“We’re in a catch-22,” Wagner explained. “The insurance doesn’t apply in this situation because it was caused by water from underground. The city was willing to pay some compensation for the first part of the building that they took down, but we don’t know how much that’s going to be. We know that what will come from that compensation won’t be sufficient to rebuild or repair or to buy another building.”

Wagner, who along with pastoring the Karen congregation is also Adventist refugee and immigrant ministries director for the New York Conference, told Adventist Review that the more than 100-year-old building’s former congregation—details of which have apparently been lost to history—were allowed to construct an addition to the original structure on land atop the sewer line. The addition contained several elements of the church building, including the rest rooms. With that addition destroyed, the congregation could no longer use the sanctuary even if that were possible: occupancy rules wouldn’t allow it.

Caught in the situation, too, is the city of Utica, which has its own financial challenges. Wagner says the city will offer some money to compensate for the parts of the building they demolished, but would rather not have to take down the newly condemned sanctuary.  The present compensation will not cover the cost if the church has to demolish the rest of the building.

Despite this, the congregation, for now, is holding on: “God has a plan,” Wagner said.  Church leaders hope to raise money for a new church home, and encourage those interested in assisting to contact Wagner via e-mail: drprgrw@gmail.com.


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