'Borough of Churches’ Is Less and Less So
By Harold Egeln
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
BAY RIDGE — Although Brooklyn was once widely known as the “borough of churches,” some Brooklyn neighborhoods, such as Bay Ridge, have experienced diminished church attendance and funds during the past few decades.
The outgoing year, 2009, has been a particularly somber year here with two churches now closing and a few others downsizing.
This past Sunday, the Fort Hamilton Presbyterian Church, at 367 94th St., held its last service with its handful of remaining members and without a pastor for several years, and with a group of community supporters in attendance.
“We’re closing because our congregation dwindled down to a handful of people,” said 30-year church member Dilia Schack at a recent Community Board 10 meeting. The civic and political activist told the board that the church is donating its Memorial Fund to organizations.
They include the Guild for Exceptional Children, the Bay Ridge Ambulance Volunteer Corps (BRAVO), the Norwegian Christian Home and the Fort Hamilton Branch Public Library. “The church wants the money to stay in our community,” said Schack.
The congregation’s first building was dedicated in 1902 and rebuilt in the 1920s, with the current building dedicated in 1963. Shack, a former congregation president, mentioned that the church was home to an Alcoholic Anonymous chapter and provided meeting space for civic organizations’ meetings such as the Ragamuffin Parade Committee and Shorefront Democratic Club.
This coming Sunday, Salem Lutheran Church, at 450 67th St., will hold its last service. “The church was organized over 105 years ago and was a leading center of the Swedish community in Brooklyn,” said historian Lars Nilsen of the Norwegian Immigration Association.
The congregation, organized on April 3, 1904, has been housed in three buildings since then, with the present church dedicated on Dec. 2, 1945, several years after selling its second church at 416 46th St. “Let us not forget what has been here,” said its part-time pastor, Rev. Harriet Wieber.
Recently it revived for the last time its pre-Christmas Lucia Festival, and the Narrows Community Theater performed its last Christmas play there. The church has served as a meeting space for civic organizations such as the Telephone Pioneers of American retirees’ chapter.
Money Crunched, Churches Cut Back
Churches such as Salam Arabic Lutheran Church, on Ovington Avenue between Third and Fourth avenues, as reported here recently, are cutting back due to fiscal problems and preparing for a pastor-less church.
Our Savior Lutheran Church, on Fourth Avenue at 80th Street, is holding its own and trying to keep its mission going. This year it gave a home to the Scandinavian East Coast Museum to display and store its many historic treasures, a growing collection that marks and celebrates the huge Scandinavian influence and heritage on Brooklyn and the city.
The Bay Ridge United Methodist Church, which sold its property at Fourth and Ovington avenues and had its “green church” and other buildings demolished in 2008, is holding services temporarily in Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, occasionally holding joint services. It awaits a new smaller church for its diminished but dedicated congregation on its former grounds next to a new public school, P.S. 680, to be constructed there.
And yet some churches, such as the Fourth Avenue Presbyterian Church at 68th Street, have experienced a rise in membership, and several Roman Catholic churches are continuing at a fairly healthy level. Their grammar schools survive, with Our Lady of Angels School becoming an independent Holy Angels Academy this year; and St. Anselm School, at 83rd Street and Fourth Avenue, and St. Patrick School, on Fourth Avenue at 97th Street, thriving.
The Bay Ridge Jewish Center, on Fourth Avenue at 81st Street, decided to keep its 1920s building rather than sell the property to a developer and maintains an active education program for children of all faiths.