A plan to turn the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine into an overflow facility for COVID-19 patients has been called off, following an ideological impasse between the fundamentalist evangelical organization tapped to run the facility and leaders of the Manhattan cathedral.
Samaritan's Purse, led by the homophobic and anti-Muslim preacher Franklin Graham, has drawn criticism from many New Yorkers, including Mayor Bill de Blasio, since opening a 68-bed field hospital in Central Park. The group demands all health care workers and volunteers adhere to an anti-gay statement of faith, and has allegedly turned away people over their sexual preferences.
Leaders of St. John the Divine told Gothamist the church "did not quite understand how strict their tenets were" when they agreed to partner with Samaritan's Purse on a temporary hospital for overflow patients from Mount Sinai.
Although efforts to erect the medical facilities in the massive Morningside Church already begun, the project was called off on Thursday, "given how important the cathedral is to many different constituencies, including LGBTQ community," according to Lisa Schubert, the cathedral’s vice president of programming and external relations. The church has a history progressive activism, including humanitarian work during the AIDs crisis. Its altarpiece was designed by Keith Haring.
The cancellation was also attributed in part to the slowing rate of hospitalizations in New York City, and recent addition of hundreds of new beds, which has lessened the need for an emergency ward in the cathedral. Representatives for Mount Sinai and Samaritan's Purse both maintained that was the reason the field hospital was mothballed.
“Given the most recent data, we are optimistic that we are seeing a flattening of the curve. As such, we are reassessing needs, resources and plans for how best to care for New Yorkers," said Jason Kaplan, a spokesperson for Mount Sinai.
A spokesperson for Samaritan's Purse said the group had conferred with Mount Sinai and decided it would be "more effective and a better allocation of resources to open an expansion site closer to their main facility if needed."
The Central Park field hospital is currently treating 51 patients, eight of which are in the ICU, the spokesperson added. Earlier this week, the progressive activist Billy Talen was arrested for planting a rainbow flag near the facility.
Schubert stressed that the cathedral would be happy to open its doors for the community in the future — and would even consider partnering with Samaritan's Purse if the need were greater.
"If people are dying, the cathedral is big enough to house people we don't necessarily agree with," she said. "But in the case where there are many beds and other complicating factors, it seemed better to put a pause on it."