By Francesca Norsen Tate, Religion Editor
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Historic Episcopal Church in Ft. Hamilton Prepares to Close This September
Nicknamed “Church of the Generals,” St. John’s Will Merge with Christ Church to Form New Ministry
A historic church in Bay Ridge in which two Confederate generals once worshiped has made the difficult decision to close its doors and merge with a nearby Episcopal parish.
St. John’s Episcopal Church in Fort Hamilton will close after 180 years of public ministry. The Rev. David Sibley, priest-in-charge of St. John’s Church, and the Bishop’s Committee made the announcement last week in a Q&A document.
The Q&A stated that “over the past several years, attendance has declined at St. John’s below the level necessary to sustain healthy ministry at the parish.”
Citing rising costs and aging infrastructure, the Q&A continues, “The Bishop’s Committee (Board of Trustees) of the parish believed that in order to be faithful to our ministry as a church, major changes needed to be made to ensure that our neighborhood has a vibrant and healthy church presence. After consulting with the leadership of the diocese and the leadership of Christ Church, the Bishop’s Committee voted to begin a new phase of ministry together with Christ Church Bay Ridge.”
Both Fr. Sibley and Bishop Lawrence Provenzano fully support this decision, according to the document.
The leadership of the parishes and diocese see this decision as a move toward strengthening ministry in Bay Ridge. The merger of the two congregations will mean that, for the first time in 10 years, an Episcopal church in Bay Ridge will have full-time ordained leadership.
“Two congregations that embrace each other warmly to start a joint ministry can be very effective,” Bishop Provenzano said. “And that’s the spirit I’ve seen as the leaders of those individual parishes made plans to share leadership roles in a new venture. And I’m eager, as bishop, to help them have a full-time priest to lead them and work with them to serve their part of Brooklyn in new ways.”
A worship service to officially conclude the local ministry at St. John’s will take place on Sunday, Sept. 7 at 4 p.m. The Q&A document indicated that St. John’s will not be deconsecrated (that is, it will retain its blessing) for the time being.
Historic Value of St. John’s Church
But locals say that a building with so much history should be preserved.
New York City Councilman Vincent J. Gentile, who represents a district that includes Bay Ridge, Fort Hamilton and Dyker Heights, is determined to make sure St. John’s Church — and its history — are preserved.
“St. John’s Episcopal Church dates back to 1834. This is where ‘Stonewall’ Jackson was baptized and Robert E. Lee went to pray. I intend to work with the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission and the Episcopal Diocese of Long Island to do whatever we can to protect and preserve this unique landmark — one with a tremendous history, not only locally, but woven into the fabric of our nation.”
Bishop Provenzano released a statement earlier this week, which read, “As St. John’s joins together with Christ Church, I will be consulting with the lay leaders of the new, joint congregation and together we will explore the best stewardship and most appropriate disposition of the historic property that has been home to St. John’s.”
A spokesperson for the Diocese of Long Island also told the Eagle on Friday, July 11 that “Bishop Provenzano has read press comments about landmark interest in these churches, but he hasn’t received any official communication about that to date. Our diocese has several historic sites, some of which have been landmarked, so we are prepared to give attention to this.”
Likewise, a spokesperson from The Landmarks Preservation Commission told the Eagle late Thursday that St. John’s-Fort Hamilton is not yet a designated New York Landmark. An online search of the National Register of Historic Places and of Historic Sites-New York State did not list either Christ Church-Bay Ridge or St. John’s-Fort Hamilton.
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MILESTONES IN FAITH
St. John’s Church and Christ Church
(Histories provided by the Diocesan Archives, Episcopal Diocese of Long Island)
St. John’s Church, Fort Hamilton, 9818 Fort Hamilton Parkway, Brooklyn, NY 11209, 180 years old in 2014: The parish was organized on Sept. 29, 1834; incorporated in 1835; admitted in 1834; and consecrated on Jan. 5, 1898, according to diocesan library records.
St. John’s is styled “The Church of the Generals” because 28 generals (number of generals varies by source) have worshiped there. Among them, General Robert E. Lee and Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson were the most famous.
When St. John’s Church was organized, Fort Hamilton was a long distance from the only other two Episcopal churches in Brooklyn — St. Ann’s, on the Heights; and St. John’s, on St. John’s Place, in what is now Park Slope. Fort Hamilton had been built shortly before the War of 1812 and, in the 1830s, the area was occupied by resort hotels. An 1884 sermon-history of the church by Rev. Robert Bayard Snowden (rector 1876-1890) says that the Rev. James Dixon Carder, a priest at St. John’s Church in Ithaca, N.Y., was vacationing in one of the hotels when he was asked by officers at the fort and a few local families to conduct Episcopal services. The first services were held in the “District Schoolroom” and within the fort.
The first church sanctuary was built on a plot of land donated to the church from the Denyse Farm and a group met with Carder at the mansion of the farm in September 1834 to organize the church. The Oct. 19, 1952 issue of the St. John’s Leaflet (St. John’s Church Papers, Diocesan Archives) states that Henry W. Slocum (later a Union general) was present at this organizational meeting. The laying of the cornerstone of the first church building occurred on March 24, 1835, by Rt. Rev. Benjamin T. Onderdonk, bishop of New York. St. John’s Church, St. John’s Place, rector Rev. Evan M. Johnson contributed to the building fund, as did Trinity Church, Wall Street. The church was completed in four months.
Carder was rector from 1834 to 1845. From June 1841 to August 1846, Robert E. Lee, then a captain, was stationed at the fort. The dates of Lee’s membership in the vestry of St. John’s Church are variously reported, but sources at least agree on the period of 1842 to 1844.
The third rector, Rev. Michael Scofield, held that office from 1847 to 1861. It was Scofield who baptized Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson on April 29, 1849.
A second church building was erected in 1897. This second church was gutted in a fire on Aug. 22, 1966. The font used for the Jackson baptism was in use in the church at the time of the fire; but it is not known if it, or the Lee tree, survived the fire.
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Christ Church, Bay Ridge, 7301 Ridge Boulevard, Brooklyn, NY 11209. Organized June 13, 1853; admitted in 1853. The church is in its 161st year: Christ Church, New Utrecht (as the Bay Ridge area was then known), was organized by Joseph Alfred Perry (b. 1807), a congregant of Christ Church, Clinton Street, Brooklyn. [Editor’s Note: The 1898 Consolidation of Brooklyn into New York City was still almost half a century in the future.]
According to the diocesan library, “With the blessing of its Christ Church-Clinton Street’s rector at that time, the Rev. John Seeley Stone, Perry led a successful capital campaign to build an Episcopal church in the area, and the first service was held on May 22, 1853. The new Christ Church was incorporated and admitted into union with the Diocese of New York that same year.
“The original certificate of incorporation is in the Diocese of Long Island Archives. The first rector was the Rev. H. H. Bartow. He remained only one year. Most of the following rectors to 1915 served only for brief periods. Two exceptions were the Rev. John A. Aspinwall, rector from for more than two decades: from 1864 to 1885, and the Rev. Bishop Falkner, a native of England, who was rector for 20 years, from 1891 to 1911.
“The present church was built in 1908 by Ralph Cram, Bertram Goodhue, and Ferguson. Two subsequent rectors also served for long periods, the Rev. John H. Fitzergald, rector from 1915 to 1956 (36 years) and the Rev. Marion L. Matics, rector from 1962 to 1983.
“The parish celebrated its one-hundredth anniversary in 1953.”
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Religious Leaders Call for Peaceful Resolution in Israel
As violence escalated in Israel and the Gaza strip on Thursday and Friday, Brooklyn religious leaders issued statements on this latest crisis in the Holy Land.
The Most Rev. Nicholas DiMarzio, Bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn, stated on July 11, “In light of the disturbing military action between Israel and Hamas forces, we advocate for restraint on all sides of this grave conflict. Recognizing Israel’s right to self-defense, we call for moderation for the sake of innocent lives. We pray that all participants in this major conflict reach the best possible solution through honest dialogue, rather than the use of arms. Knowing the sad events of the deaths of the three Israeli youths and the death of the Palestinian youth, we ask for an end to the fighting, which is only bringing about more killing. We pray that all respect the God-given gift of human life for all in the midst of this conflict.”
Meanwhile, earlier in the week, vandalism attributed to hate crimes erupted here in Brooklyn, which has otherwise been a bastion of interfaith and multicultural friendship. Past Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz, during his time in office, always praised Brooklyn for being an example of love to the world. However, a different scenario was unfolding this week.
News 12 Brooklyn, the Council on American-Islamic Relations’ New York chapter (CAIR-NY) and an online edition of Brooklyn Bazaar all reported that a recent rash of anti-Muslim graffiti in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Kensington has prompted CAIR to call on local law enforcement officials to investigate these apparent hate crimes.
Graffiti has been discovered all over the Kensington neighborhood, with incendiary statements such as “Islam is evil,” “Allah is evil” and “Islam is barbaric.” These phrases have been sprayed onto everything from ticket machines to mailboxes and have the local Muslim population both incensed and worried.
Making the racism more alarming is that Kensington is generally known for being one of the more diverse neighborhoods in all of New York City, let alone Brooklyn itself. Local news source KensingtonBK.com reports that that the graffiti has been seen as far back as Halloween of last year and now CAIR-NY has joined the call to bring these perpetrators to justice.
“No community should be subjected to this type of anonymous hate campaign,” said CAIR-NY Director of Operations Sadyia Khalique, in a statement. “We urge local law enforcement authorities and public officials to investigate this ongoing hate vandalism and to bring the perpetrators to justice.”
However, in Brownstone Brooklyn, the Jewish and Muslim communities continue to offer hospitality and friendship to each other. Three Iftars scheduled for the next week will be hosted at the Dawood Mosque on State Street and at the Brooklyn Heights Synagogue and Congregation Mount Sinai. The Iftar at Mount Sinai, to be held July 24, is being planned in partnership with the Kings Bay Y and the Turkish Cultural Center.
Statements from Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, had not yet been updated on URJ’s website from the last week of June at the death of the three Jewish teens in Hebron.
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Award-Winning Evangelist Singer Performs in Brooklyn This Month
Award-winning singer Carman brings his Live Across America tour to a church in Brooklyn. The CD “No Plan B” and his tour were made possible through the unprecedented fan response to the crowd-funding platform Kickstarter campaign that he launched after opening up on social media about a multiple myeloma cancer diagnosis just last year.
“I was diagnosed in 2013 and was planning on having two to three good years left, but I didn’t want to keep it a secret,” Carman said. “I posted the news on Facebook and wanted to be honest and upright about it with anyone who asked. So many people started sharing stories of what they went through and posted photos of their heads wrapped up because their hair was gone. When I hear a story like that, my instinct is to reach out and cheer them up.”
“No Plan B,” a Norway Avenue Records release, is distributed by Capital Christian Distribution. The project features all original music by Carman, including songs “No Plan B,” “I’m Coming Home,” “God Made Man,” “Jesus Heal” and several other songs.
“The main message of the whole album can be found in the title track, ‘No Plan B,’ which is how I’ve lived all these years,” Carman said. “Even if I only have a few more on this earth, I’ll still be preaching, giving altar calls, winning souls for the kingdom and singing the songs that have the power to bring deliverance into people’s lives, whether it is in front of 20 people or 20,000 people.”
Carman has filled stadiums across the globe, from record holdings like 72,132 people at Texas Stadium, to 50,000-plus in Johannesburg, South Africa and 80,000 in Chattanooga, Tenn. He has a grand total of 1.5 million cumulative attendees during three national tours. Joining President and Mrs. Reagan and Dr. Billy Graham in the honor, he received House of Hope Humanitarian Award. His career has yielded seven Dove Awards, a quartet of Grammy nominations, plus 16 RIAA Certified Platinum and Gold albums and videos amassing to well over 10 million cumulative career record sales. His acclaimed albums include “The Champion,” “Revival In The Land,” “Addicted To Jesus,” “The Standard,” “R.I.O.T. (Righteous Invasion of Truth)” and “Mission 3:16.”
Carman hits the road with his Live Across America Tour, making stops at venues across the country, bringing new music to friends and fans nationwide. He will visit Emmanuel Pentecostal Church with his Live Across America Tour at 359 55th St. in Sunset Park on Saturday, July 26, at 7 p.m. For more information, call 718-439-5080. Tickets range from $18 to $25 with VIP for $100. Tickets are available at online at www.itickets.com, or charge by phone at 800-965-9324.