Gentile says he’ll fight to save building
By Paula Katinas
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
With shock over the news that Saint John’s Episcopal Church in Bay Ridge is closing due to declining congregation numbers still settling in for community residents, speculation has begun over that will happen to the church building after the last service is held there in September.
Councilman Vincent Gentile (D-Bay Ridge-Dyker Heights-parts of Bensonhurst) told the Brooklyn Eagle in an email that he will explore the possibility of having the church building designated as a city landmark to protect it from developers who might be looking at the property as a site for luxury condos.
“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,” Gentile wrote in the email.
Located at 9818 Fort Hamilton Parkway, St. John’s Episcopal Church was dedicated 180 years ago. The church, nicknamed the “Church of the Generals,” stands a block away from the main gate of the US Army Garrison at Fort Hamilton. Both Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson worshiped at St. John’s when they were stationed at Fort Hamilton in the 1840s.
Lee also planted a tree on the church’s front lawn. A sign commemorating the tree planting still stands on the lawn.
St. John’s Episcopal Church will merge with another local church, Christ Church Bay Ridge, officials announced last week.
“Over the past several years, attendance has declined at St. John’s below the level necessary to sustain healthy ministry at the parish,” a statement issued by the church reads.
The last service will take place on Sept. 7.
It’s not clear what the Episcopal Diocese of Long Island, which has jurisdiction over St. John’s, intends to do with the church property.
Bishop Larry Provenzano, bishop of the diocese, issued a statement promising a fair review of the situation. “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,” he stated.
Meanwhile, Bay Ridge residents and others are lamenting the closure of the church.
Anthony Marino, co-founder of brooklynONE Theater and Film Productions, a Bay Ridge-based arts company, said his group enjoyed using the church hall for its productions of plays and musicals.
“We are incredibly upset to learn that St. Johns will be closing its doors in September. Our tenure there has been nothing short of amazing. We have felt nothing but support, trust and most importantly, artistic independence from our hosts,” Marino said in a statement.
“I have likely spent more time at St. Johns in the last eight years then I have spent in my own home, or even work. As a group, brooklynONE has scrubbed floors, built sets, scaled walls, painted, cleaned bathrooms and kitchens, and so much more. We have laughed and cried, and we have celebrated there and we have mourned. We have stood shoulder to shoulder with artists from around the world, producing works from countries across the ocean, working with theatre groups from Manhattan and beyond,” Marino stated.