Brooklyn Boro

Faith In Brooklyn for Jan. 5

January 5, 2015 By Francesca Norsen Tate, Religion Editor Brooklyn Daily Eagle
The historic Church of the Redeemer in Boerum Hill. Eagle Photo © 2012 by Francesca Norsen Tate
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Sale of Redeemer Church Provides Grant Money to Ministries around World

Brooklyn Parish Receives Large Amount to Feed the Hungry

The Episcopal Diocese of Long Island is distributing more than $2 million in grants from the sale of the former Church of the Redeemer property.

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The historic Church of the Redeemer in Boerum Hill, which is within view from Barclays Center, was sold for $20 million, the Brooklyn Eagle reported in September. The property at 561 Pacific St. had been shuttered for some time following a period of decline and was de-consecrated during an outdoor liturgy on June 30, 2012.

The architect of the 148-year-old Church of the Redeemer was Patrick Keely, acclaimed as “the prince of American Catholic architects.” Redeemer was (according to in a 2012 post) “one of the few non-Catholic churches that Keely would design.”

Keely was also the architect for St. Charles Borromeo Church and St. Boniface Church (Brooklyn Oratory), among many other sacred sites in Brooklyn.

A neighborhood group called the East Pacific Street Block Association had campaigned to save the church building. Diocesan authorities estimated that its renovation would cost an estimated $4 million to $5 million. After devoting more than a year to seeking creative ways to continue Redeemer’s ministry in the neighborhood, they found “no realistic prospects” for covering expenses.

However, the sale of Redeemer Church has made possible the disbursement of grants within and beyond the Diocese of Long Island. Bishop Provenzano announced, at the recent annual diocesan convention, that these grants would be tithed and distributed during 2015 for national, international and local ministry efforts. (The Biblical and still standard tithe is 10 percent of one’s income; in this case, $2 million is being tithed from $20 million.)

“Sharing these resources beyond our own needs is living out our Anglican understanding of faithful stewardship as mutual responsibility and interdependence,” Bishop Provenzano said.

Locally, $500,000 will be reserved for use by the “remnant” (former members) of the Church of the Redeemer, as they establish “Redeemer Hall,” a feeding program in their new parish home of St. Luke and St. Matthew in Brooklyn.

The Long Island Council of Churches will also receive $120,000 over a three-year period to support the Freeport Food Pantry, for the feeding of the poor in cooperation with the Garden at St. Mark’s in North Bellmore.

Additionally, half of the annual proceeds from investment income, estimated at $800,000 to $1 million, are being allocated for use in Brooklyn and Queens ministries. The other half of these proceeds will be used for ministry development in Nassau and Suffolk counties.

Funds go to missions and dioceses around the United States: $300,000 is being given to the Missionary District of the Navajoland to support their project, already in the planning stages, which will result in the district’s becoming an independent diocese of the Church, ending dependence on donations on the wider church.

The Cheyenne River Episcopal Mission in the Diocese of South Dakota will receive $300,000 to underwrite the ministry of a second full-time priest to be a youth and young adult missioner and ministry developer. A section of this diocese has the highest suicide rate of youth and young adults in the entire United States.

Overseas: A tithe of $300,000 will help support the recovery of the Anglican dioceses of Liberia, the Diocese of Guinea and the Diocese of Bo in Sierra Leone, following the devastation and disruptions they have experienced because of the Ebola epidemic.

Tithes of $300,000 each will help support the re-establishment of St. Barnabas Agricultural College in the North of Haiti, as well as direct aid to the work of Bishop Suffragan Ogé Beauvoir.

$300,000 will be placed in an established Companion Relationship fund to support the ministry of the Diocese of Torit in South Sudan, the Diocese of Ecuador Central and the Diocese of Long Island’s partners in ministry in the Diocese of Cape Coast in West Africa.

Bishop Provenzano said, “I am pleased that the sale of Redeemer Church property has made this sharing possible. We have huge needs in many parts of our diocese and this has given us an unexpected opportunity to address some of those needs while being mindful of the needs of others.”

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Park Slope’s Old First Reformed Church Receives Robert W. Wilson Sacred Sites Challenge Grant

Award is Among 25 Being Given to Historic Religious Properties throughout New York State

Old First Reformed Church in Park Slope has received a $25,000 Challenge Grant from the New York Landmarks Conservancy.

The Conservancy announced 25 Sacred Sites Grants, totaling more than $300,000, to be awarded to historic religious properties throughout New York State, from Harlem to Niagara Falls. The Robert W. Wilson Sacred Sites Challenge Grant of $25,000 to Old First Reformed Church in Brooklyn is for façade masonry and roof flashing.

“Religious institutions reflect the history and immigration patterns of communities,” said Peg Breen, president of the New York Landmarks Conservancy. “Many provide vital services that reach beyond their congregations. We all have an interest in preserving them.”

The Old First Reformed Church is an excellent example of the late Gothic Revival, or neo-Gothic style. Designed by Brooklyn architect George L. Morse and built in 1888-91, the limestone church exhibits the hallmark features of the style, including a monumental, 212-foot corner tower with limestone spire, buttresses and pointed-arched windows. The arts and crafts interior is lavishly decorated with coffered ceilings, figural art glass stained-glass windows by prominent studios, including Heinicke and Bowen, Edward Colgate, the Tiffany Glass Company, and noted Brooklyn firm Heuser and Hausleiter, murals by Rome-born, Brooklyn-based painter Vergilio Tojetti, and decorative stencils.

The sanctuary has an 1891 Roosevelt Organ, rebuilt in 1928 by the H. P. Möller Company. A matching chapel/community wing, also designed by Morse and constructed in 1887-1889, prior to the church, extends to the rear of the church along Carroll Street.

The Old First Reformed Church has a 2014 conditions assessment from the preservation architecture firm JHPA. Prior to 2011, the church deferred several capital projects, including the plaster ceiling in the sanctuary, repairs to two monumental stained-glass windows, and masonry and roof repairs. A partial collapse of this ceiling in 2012 led to a more urgent and comprehensive approach. The conditions assessment makes a series of recommendations for restoration of the sanctuary’s exterior to be completed before the sanctuary ceiling can be restored, including removing areas of spalled stone, repointing mortar joints, repairing metal beams over window openings to stabilize and eliminate oxide jacking, patching areas of deteriorated cornice and gutter drainage system, and cleaning carbon deposits from the masonry. On the roof, all original copper flashing will be replaced in kind.

Moreover, even with its own physical plant in need of repairs, Old First’s congregation served as the temporary home to the nearby Congregation Beth Elohim until 2011, when the synagogue was unable to use its sanctuary due to a ceiling collapse. Now, due to the church’s own ceiling collapse, the congregation has held major holiday celebrations at the synagogue.

The church complex is used regularly by a wide range of community organizations, including the Old First Nursery School, Twelve Step programs, CAMBA respite shelter for the homeless, Community Board 6 meetings, Berkeley Carroll commencements and other events. “Arts at Old First” has produced musical performances, literary events, and fine-arts shows. Music is an important part of Old First’s ministry, with a staff organist and youth choir.

Following Hurricane Sandy, the church turned its kitchen over to a nearby restaurant to start what became known as the Sandy Relief Kitchen. Until it wound down in 2013, the kitchen raised more than $100,000 and delivered more than 200,000 hot meals and sandwiches.

The Conservancy’s Sacred Sites Program has helped more than 730 religious institutions across New York State with more than $8.7 million in grants triggering more than $575 million in restoration and construction projects. It is one of the few programs in the country to offer financial assistance to restore and preserve landmark religious institutions.

The New York Landmarks Conservancy has led the effort to preserve and protect New York City’s architectural legacy for more than 40 years. Since its founding, the Conservancy has loaned and granted more than $40 million, which has leveraged more than $1 billion in 1,550 restoration projects throughout New York, revitalizing communities, providing economic stimulus and supporting local jobs. The Conservancy has also offered countless hours of pro bono technical advice to building owners, both nonprofit organizations and individuals.

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Old First Reformed Church

The congregation of Old First Reformed Church was established 360 years ago, in 1654, along with churches in Flatbush and Flatlands, by order of Governor Pieter Stuyvesant. The three churches operated as “collegiate” churches, sharing Domine (Reverend) Theodorus Polhemus as pastor. In 1660, the Breukelen group broke away and had its own pastor, Domine Henricus Selyns, but when he returned to Holland four years later, Breukelen resumed its relationship with the other two churches, which lasted until 1805. These three original churches celebrated their 350th anniversary in 2004.

The congregation began worshiping outdoors, then in a series of buildings as membership grew.  

“At first, worship was conducted under the trees, then in a barn. In 1666, the first church edifice, shown above, was built in the town of Breukelen in the middle of a highway, now known as Fulton Street,” reads an online history on Old First Church’s website.

At one point, the church property, which included a burial ground, sat on land now occupied by Macy’s, on Fulton between Lawrence and Bridge streets. The burial ground was later transferred to the Green-Wood Cemetery.

After outgrowing several “new buildings” and the splitting of the original congregation, Old First Church completed a chapel at the corner of Seventh Avenue and Carroll Street in 1886. Before long, expansions of both the neighborhood of Park Slope and the congregation required a larger church to be built. That building, as it stands today, was dedicated on September 27, 1891. An 1894 New York Times account gives the seating capacity as 1,200, stating that “…the church was full on a Sunday morning.”

Following a period of decline, Old First Church has again enjoyed renewal and expansion, under the leadership of its senior pastor since 2001, the Rev. Dr. Daniel Meeter.

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East Midwood Jewish Center Installs New Rabbi During 90th Anniversary Gala

The East Midwood Jewish Center (EMJC) recently celebrated its 90th anniversary by looking forward — with the installation of Rabbi Matt Carl.

Cantor Sam Levine conducted the EMJC Chorus in two songs before taking on the role of master of ceremonies for the rest of the event.  Toby Sanchez, historian and grant writer, told the congregation about the amazing group of people who created East Midwood in 1924 and then explained that the building and history are significant enough to earn EMJC a place on the National and New York State Registers of Historic Places.

Cantor Levine and the EMJC Octet then performed the premiere of his new composition. He also played the extraordinary voices of two past cantors — Abraham Hyman and Joseph Eidelson. The congregation also listened to a recording of a stirring sermon by the late Rabbi Harry Halpern, who served from 1929 until 1978.  

Giving reminiscences were Rabbi Emeritus Alvin Kass, Sandy Goldhaber, Hannah Levine and Phyllis Rothstein, each of whom has been a member for more than 50 years.

Following remarks by Councilmembers Mathieu Eugene and Jumaane Williams, Rabbi Carrie Carter, religious leader of the Park Slope Jewish Center, spoke glowingly about her friend and colleague, Rabbi  Carl, whom she met about 14 years ago when he served as a rabbinic intern in her shul. She then brought Rabbi Kass, Cantor Levine, co-presidents Randy Grossman and Sanchez together to recite the threefold blessing created by Moses and recited in every synagogue and many churches throughout the world. The whole congregation then rose to recite the Shehechiyanu prayer of gratitude.  

— Contributed by members of the East Midwood Jewish Center

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Kane St. Synagogue Musicians Releases ‘Brooklyn Spirituals’ CD

Joey Weisenberg, music director at the Kane Street Synagogue, released his fourth CD last week, titled “Brooklyn Spirituals.”

The album offers stirring nigunim, including a live performance from Weisenberg and the Hadar Ensemble. This CD release party took place at Hadar on Amsterdam Avenue in Manhattan.

Hadar Ensemble features: Joey Weisenberg on lead vocals, guitar and mandolin; Mattisyahu Brown and Deborah Sacks on harmony; Eleonore Weill on harmony vocals and wooden flute; Yoshie Fruchter on harmony vocals and upright bass; Myk Freedman on lap steel; Sam Weisenberg on tom drum and percussion; Jake Shulman-Ment on violin; and Ilusha Tzinadze on banjo.

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Talk Centers on the Letter as Lifeline and Role of Brivnshteler in Eastern Europe

Back when handwritten letters were lifelines, the brivnshteler, or letter-writing guide, instructed East European Jews in everything from writing skills to navigating unfamiliar social situations.

Congregation Mount Sinai hosts a discussion with Professor Alice Nakhimovsky and Roberta Newman of YIVO, authors who have compiled the first-ever anthology of these striking manuals. Actors will provide dramatic readings of brivnshteler samples as part of this program, titled “Dear Mendl, Dear Reyzl: Yiddish Letter Manuals from Russia and America.”

Their presentation takes place on Thursday, Jan. 8, starting with a light dinner and 7 p.m. program. Admission to the adult program with a light dinner is $25; the adult program only is $10; the student program only is $7. RSVP is required by Tuesday, Jan. 6, to the CMS office at [email protected], or 718-875-9124. 

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New BHS iEngage Series Focuses on ‘The Tribes of Israel: A Shared Homeland”

The Brooklyn Heights Synagogue embarks on a new season of its popular iEngage series.

This second iEngage Video Lecture Series, iEngage 2.0, will present “The Tribes of Israel: A Shared Homeland for a Divided People.” The program confronts the challenge of creating a Jewish and democratic public space in the modern State of Israel – a shared common space for a people divided along “tribal” affiliations: religious, ideological, national and geographic.

Topics include: the “Orthodox” Jewish Tribes; the “Liberal” Jewish Tribes; the Arab Palestinian Israeli Tribe; the North-American Jewish Tribes; Unity and Diversity in the Jewish Tradition; and the Porous “Wall of Separation” between Church and State in Both North America and Israel. For a more in-depth look at the topics, go to

Members of the clergy of Brooklyn Heights Synagogue teach the nine sessions on Wednesday evenings, starting Jan. 7, from 7 to 9 p.m. Each session is composed of a video lecture, or interview, guided text study, and discussion. Dates are Jan. 7 and 28; Feb. 18; March 18; April 8 and 29; May 20; and June 3 and 24. The fee is $75 for the series, or $10 per session, for members; $100 for the series, or $15 per session, for non-members.

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Epiphany Book Study Focuses On Richard Rohr’s ‘Immortal Diamond

During Epiphany, the Church of St. Ann & the Holy Trinity will embark on a four-Sunday study series of acclaimed theologian Richard Rohr’s “Immortal Diamond: In Search of Our True Self.”

Rohr, a best-selling author and internationally known speaker, is a Franciscan friar and Roman Catholic priest with great ecumenical appeal. His work engages the integration of action and contemplation, the living nature of scripture, life in community and the stages of the spiritual life.

Attendees will gather on Sundays, Jan. 11, 18 and 25 and Feb. 1, following the 11:15 a.m. Holy Eucharist, to explore the concept of the truer self at the core of our being. Twelve copies of the book have been ordered for participants to buy for $15. Please inform Parish Life Associate Matt Leaycraft at [email protected] of your interest in participating in the book study and obtaining a copy of “Immortal Diamond.”

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Heights Composer Martin Halpern’s Chamber Opera Set to Premiere

The world premiere of Heights resident Martin Halpern’s latest chamber opera, “Last Wishes,” will be produced at the Bridge Theater, Shetler Studios, starting on Jan. 15.

The opera is set in a Jewish funeral home in south Florida, where Irving Rifkin lies near death in the county hospital. His sister, Ruth, and his oldest friend, Sam Abramson, have come to make funeral arrangements with the director, Mr. Levitt. Ruth, in keeping with her brother’s last wishes, insists on an orthodox service and burial in a New York cemetery beside his longtime first wife, Miriam. But when Lucille, his current wife, arrives on the scene, a bitter conflict arises between her and Ruth, with Sam and Levitt caught in the middle. Eventually, Sam is able to resolve the conflict in a way that preserves both women’s images of the dying man and that allows the love that both feel for him to be honestly expressed.

Halpern is a longtime Heights resident and member of the Brooklyn Heights Synagogue. According to his website, there have been more than 80 performances of his vocal and chamber works and 15 productions of his chamber operas in the New York area. For all these operas, he is the librettist as well as the composer. Halpern has won 11 “Meet the Composer” grants and 10 ASCAP-Plus awards; from 1997 to 2009, he was concerts director of the Long Island Composers’ Alliance.

Performances take place on Jan. 15, 16 and 17 at 8 p.m. and Jan. 18 at 3 p.m.

The Bridge Theater, Shetler Studios, is at 244 West 54th St., Floor 12. Admission, at $20, is available at the door. For reservations, which are recommended, call 718-858-1549, or e-mail [email protected].


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