By Francesca Norsen Tate, Religion Editor
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
The Brooklyn Tabernacle celebrated the opening of its new—and present—building on Fulton Mall 11 years ago this week, on Sunday, May 26, 2002.
According to a webpage of church organ specifications of the American Guild of Organists-New York Chapter, “The Brooklyn Tabernacle has a long and varied history, having been established in 1847 as the Central Presbyterian Church.”
The congregation’s first building was on Willoughby St. at the corner of Pearl St., in what is now MetroTech. A revival bolstered membership and another frame tabernacle was built at the corner of State and Nevins streets. This building was first used for public services on April 3, 1853, some 160 years ago. A new cornerstone was laid in June, 1843. Membership increased through the religious revivals of the time during the 1850s. One noted pastor, The Rev. T. Dewitt Talmage, was installed on March 22, 1869. Sadly, a fire destroyed the first tabernacle that same year.
The second Brooklyn Tabernacle was built in 1873 at the corner of Marcy and Jefferson avenues. This tabernacle was destroyed during a violent thunderstorm in 1889. While the insurance covered only $120,000 of the cost of constructing a new home for the church, Pastor Talmage petitioned the people of Brooklyn and raised another $100,000. The entire cost of rebuilding came to about $400,000. The third Brooklyn Tabernacle building could seat 6,000 and hold 7,000 people (assuming standing-room.) Unfortunately, this building, also, was destroyed in 1894 when a fire erupted in the organ loft. The American Guild of Organists (AGO) site has a record of Pastor Talmage’s recollections of this disaster: “The fire was discovered just after the morning service, and everyone had left the building but myself, Mrs. Talmage, the organist, and one or two personal friends. We were standing in the centre aisle of the church when a puff of smoke suddenly came out of the space behind the organ. In less than fifteen minutes from that discovery the huge pipe organ was a raging furnace, and I personally narrowly escaped the falling debris by the rear door of my church study. The flags and decoration which had been put up for the jubilee celebration had not been moved, and they whetted the appetite of the flames.”
It is believed that the tabernacle was then rebuilt at the same spot.
After several decades, that congregation fell into decline, with fewer than 40 members. Then, in 1971, a young pastoral team—husband and wife Jim and Carol Cymbala, felt God’s call to revitalize the tabernacle; and the congregation began to flourish. The Cymbalas are credited with building membership to where it is now, at about 16,000 worshipers. The Brooklyn Tabernacle evolved into a non-denominational Christian Pentecostal congregation and has since become a megachurch.
During the 1980s, the Brooklyn Tabernacle purchased the former Carlton Theatre at 292 Flatbush Avenue at 7th Avenue, converting the 1383-seat theatre into a church. This was their home until the need to expand led to their purchase of the former Loew’s Theater on what is now Fulton Mall. The church’s address is 17 Smith St.
Carol Cymbala’s leadership of the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir helped it grow to where it is now 280 singers strong, according to the Choir’s webpage. She turned the Choir, consisting mostly of untrained singers, into a group that has won five Dove Awards and six Grammy Awards. The Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir, which sings at TBT’S Sunday afternoon services, received worldwide exposure at the 2013 Presidential Inauguration, singing its newest arrangement of the Battle Hymn of the Republic. The Choir sings Live In Concert, this Sunday, June 2 at 3 p.m.