Faith in Brooklyn: Landmark Heights church re-dedicated as pro-cathedral for Episcopal Diocese

September 19, 2018 By Francesca Norsen Tate, Religion Editor Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Clergy from St. Ann & the Holy Trinity Church, from neighboring Grace Church, and from the Diocese of Long Island process up Montague St. Eagle photos by Francesca N. Tate

Designation has meant re-investment in this history-rich building

Amid jubilation and a procession to the landmark church from the Brooklyn Heights Promenade, the parish of St. Ann & the Holy Trinity on Sunday, Sept. 16, celebrated its becoming a pro-Cathedral for the Episcopal Diocese of Long Island

The Rt. Rev. Lawrence Provenzano, bishop of Long Island, announced his intention to designate St. Ann & the Holy Trinity Church in Brooklyn Heights as a pro-cathedral last November at the diocese’s 151st Convention of the Diocese of Long Island.

A cathedral is the principal church of a diocese. It contains the bishop’s seat  (cathedra, in Latin), and is a place for diocesan celebrations and episcopal services. (The word episcopal, spelled in lowercase, refers to matters involving bishops, in any branch of Western Christianity. Capitalized, the word refers to the Episcopal Church USA, or clergy, parishes or dioceses within this denomination.)

The Cathedral of the Incarnation in Garden City, New York, serves this role in the Episcopal Diocese of Long Island. Where a diocese already has a functioning cathedral, a pro-cathedral may also be named.

While serving as diocesan pro-cathedral, St. Ann & the Holy Trinity Church will hold a cathedra (bishop’s seat) and provide a location for special diocesan events in the densely-populated, western part of the diocese, within the City of New York.

The church remains under the control of its rector and vestry, and its status as a pro-cathedral continues only through the tenure of Bishop Provenzano. The next bishop may elect to extend pro-cathedral status, revoke it or grant it to another parish in the diocese.

The booklet for the dedication service states that, “St. Ann & the Holy Trinity comes naturally to pro-cathedral status. A pro-cathedral is most commonly the church that functions as the seat of a bishop until a cathedral has been erected. It was here in the former Church of the Holy Trinity that then rector, the Rev. Abram Newkirk Littlejohn, was elected the first Bishop of Long Island on November 19, 1868. This building was Bishop Littlejohn’s pro-cathedral from the time of his consecration on January 27, 1869, until the opening of the Cathedral of the Incarnation on April 9, 1885.”

St. Ann’s Church (then at Clinton and Livingston streets, before its merger with Holy Trinity) also had its turn at being a pro-cathedral.

“On May 16, 1950, Bishop James P. De Wolfe announced to the 83rd Convention of the Diocese of Long Island that he had accepted an offer by the vestry of St. Ann’s Church  to use the church for ‘diocesan purposes’ in Brooklyn,” according to the above-mentioned service booklet. “In other words, he agreed that St. Ann’s would serve as pro-cathedral. St. Ann’s rector at the time, the Rev. Melville Harcourt, became rector and Bishop’s Vicar, and an honorary Canon.”

St. Ann’s Church, the first Episcopal parish established in Brooklyn, pre-dates the U.S. Constitution and the Episcopal Church as a religious body separate from the Church of England.

A  group of Anglican-minded people had gathered together in the home of Ann and Joshua Sands. That group became a congregation and was formally incorporated in 1787—a year before the U.S. Constitution was ratified.

Fast forward 182 years: In 1969, St. Ann’s took up residence in the former Church of the Holy Trinity, which had closed.

Being named a pro-Cathedral has meant the diocese has invested in this landmark building, and is now a line item in the diocesan budget.

“It has already resulted in our spending of significant dollars to begin the process of the interior renovation of the church. The trustees of the diocese invested over $1 million last year in the interior work that had to be done, to the ceiling,” Bishop Provenzano told INBrooklyn recently.

Bishop Provenzano said, “My expectation is that the congregation, the clergy and staff of St. Ann & the Holy Trinity Church will be further encouraged to open up the building for the use by the community. I think it’s already doing that, but I want to encourage more of that. A secondary or tertiary goal might be that people will come to church there, come for liturgies. I think that our way of operating is that the church exists in the spirit of community—not just to get people to come to church.”