By Francesca Norsen
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
While demolition is not imminent, historic building is likely doomed
The 146-year-old Church of the Redeemer, near the new Barclays Center, at the nexus of Boerum Hill and the busy Atlantic Avenue corridor, was deconsecrated as holy space last Saturday after falling into a state of disrepair in recent years.
The costs of fixing the Episcopal church would be in the millions, church authorities estimated. As a result, while the building's fate has not been determined, it appeared unlikely it would survive.
The parish that the church serves was founded on Dec. 26, 1853, according to a leaflet for a liturgy. After its founding, the parish was admitted to the Diocese of New York in 1854. The Diocese of Long Island, which includes Brooklyn (as well as Queens, Nassau and Suffolk counties), wouldn’t be established until years later, but shortly after it was, that diocese admitted Redeemer Church in 1868.
An Episcopal community that worshiped at St. Peter’s Church on State Street near Bond Street had outgrown its own building, and one group of parishioners established the church we know today. This group worshiped in a hall on Fulton Street until leaders were able to purchase land at Pacific Street and Fourth Avenue, according to the website brownstoner.com. A chapel was built on that site, but when attendance exceeded the 500-person capacity, it was time to build something larger.
"The Prince of American Catholic architects,” Patrick C. Keely, was hired to design the new church, “one of the few non-Catholic churches that Kelley would design,” reads brownstoner.com.
Over time, a combination of changing demographics, financial struggles, and damage from the subway directly below the church were among factors that contributed to Redeemer’s decline.
The Rev. Deacon Chris Ballard, project manager for The Redeemer Project and curate at the Church of St. Luke & St. Matthew in Clinton Hill, explained, “The overall decline of church membership nationally and locally is one major contributing factor. With a decline in membership came a decline in financial support for the building.
“With limited resources, the parish worked very hard to keep the building up, but in the end a 19th century building takes far more resources than a parish with dwindling membership has. The subway’s damage to the building is long-term and extensive.
However, the church’s deconsecration is not the end of the story for this parish, emphasized Bishop Lawrence C. Provenzano, who presided at the deconsecration. “I think it’s important that, as we gather here on the sidewalk, adjacent to this historic church, that we recognize that this is not an end to our ministry in this community; but in fact a moment of transformation, where we’re going to plant new seeds, where we’re going to harvest a new ministry,” he said.
Ballard emphasized that the members of Redeemer Church have been worshiping “in diaspora” at St. Luke & St. Matthew, where he presides. Indeed, members of St. Luke & St. Matthew Church were present at Redeemer’s deconsecration liturgy.
The Redeemer Project is working with the community and discussing ideas for future ministries at the site.
“We are in a two-phase process, one of which is of course identifying what’s valuable on the property, and to recycle what we can,” said Ballard. “Much of the stone and glass, the big items, as well as the smaller items, can all be recycled — used in different locations: at our own church or used to the glory of God elsewhere."
The Redeemer Project envisions building a mixed-use building — residential and light commercial — for outreach ministries that can still be financially sustainable. “We have a commercial overlay for our zoning,” he pointed out.
Ballard also visions Redeemer being more of a participant within the neighborhood, focusing on social activism, “visibility and relationships with all the neighborhood communities.”