The First Estate January 4, 2012

News and Trends From Brooklyn’s Houses of Worship

Francesca Norsen Tate

Brooklyn Rallies to Help Landmark Sanctuary

When plaster fell from the ceiling of Old First Reformed Church in Park Slope just before Christmas, the sanctuary had to be closed.

This was the second time that falling plaster closed the landmark sanctuary immediately before heavily-attended worship services. The first time was at Rosh Hashanah, when Old First Church was hosting neighboring Congregation Beth Elohim for the High Holy Days. The Temple’s ceiling had also collapsed. However, Brooklyn has responded overwhelmingly, with support including from Borough President Marty Markowitz.

Old First Reformed Church of Brooklyn, with a congregational history dating back to 1654, has for decades been a central gathering spot for religious and cultural groups in Park Slope. The church relocated its Christmas Eve and Christmas services to a smaller space adjacent to the sanctuary.

The Reverend Dr. Daniel Meeter, pastor of Old First Church, said the church’s other ministries will continue uninterrupted. “We know it’s going to be a challenge, but we will rise to it. We also know how much the neighborhood and larger community love this church and depend on it for so many things, especially for spirituality and hope, no matter what their religion. We know how much support we have, and we know what our mission is. With God’s help, we will do it.”

As of press time, Old First Church’s Facebook page contained several posts about the ceiling, most recently on December 26, thanking anonymous donors for their generous donations to restore the ceiling. The most recent post read, “With the help of persons like yourself, the community, and tireless efforts of our members, we hope to reopen for worship in a timely fashion, and again host community and arts groups who miss the space as much as we.”

Pieces of the church’s elaborate 60-foot ceiling began to fall in September, when the neighboring Congregation Beth Elohim was holding its Rosh Hashanah services as a guest of Old First Church. As a result Congregation Beth Elohim returned to its own sanctuary, and is in the process of repairs and restoration.

The sanctuary at Old First Church is regarded as one of the best surviving Arts and Crafts interiors in New York. The sanctuary is known for its stained glass, acoustics, and its majestic Roosevelt pipe organ. The congregation is the first one established in Brooklyn, 347 years ago, and its steeple is the second-tallest in the borough. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1998.

A spokesperson responded to this newspaper via email on Monday that “the church has received thousands of dollars in donations, some of them anonymous, since the problem first came to light. We are of course heartened by that and by the support of Brooklyn’s churches and synagogues and its political leaders.”

Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz said: “The historic and beautiful Old First Reformed Church of Brooklyn has been a pillar of Park Slope and Brooklyn for more than a century — not only a place of worship for Brooklyn’s oldest congregation, but a meeting spot for writers and artists, a shelter for homeless men, and a temporary home for the congregants of Beth Elohim when their own building was in need of repairs. But now it’s Old First that needs our help, and my office stands ready to assist in any way possible so that this magnificent piece of Brooklyn history can re-open its doors and once again provide a sanctuary and community meeting space open to all.”

City Councilmember Brad Lander, who volunteered at the church’s Respite Shelter for homeless men last summer, said, “Old First Church is a true treasure of our community, a compelling historic landmark, a welcoming religious community, and an essential civic space. Its beauty, grandeur, and history are plain for all to see. But what takes place inside is even more important. Old First not only houses prayer and fellowship –it also serves as the go-to place for our community meetings, our kids’ drama performances, summer camp, AA and other support groups, even as a respite shelter for those most in need. As the church has so often been there for the community, now we must work together to preserve Old First in its hour of need.”

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Foreign Policy Experts Discuss Impact of Arab Spring on Israel

What effects could Arab Spring — the cascade of political upheavals that happened throughout the Middle East and North Africa — have on Israel?

This Sunday, Congregation Beth Elohim will host two former presidential advisors for a forum, “The Arab Spring at One Year: Implications for Israel.”

Elliott Abrams, currently Senior Fellow for Middle Eastern Studies, Council on Foreign Relations; and Robert Malley, Middle East Program Director for the International Crisis Group, will discuss the ongoing upheavals that led to regime change in Tunisia and Egypt, the continuing violence and internal conflict in Syria, Libya and Yemen, and protests throughout the rest of the Arab world.

The program begins at 1:30 p.m. on Sunday, January 8. Tickets, at $10, are available in advance. Contact the Temple office at 718-768-3814.

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‘Seeing Salvation’ Through Art Is Focus of Lectures

Dr. Lucinda Mosher Photo courtesy of Dr. Mosher

Educator and author Dr. Lucinda Mosher gives a presentation at St. Ann & the Holy Trinity Church during the season of Epiphany.

An introduction to this two-part lecture states that “Christianity is the religion of the Word made flesh. The lecture will consider how artists through the ages have taken up the task of interpreting and commenting on the biblical text, thus teaching theology through their art. The focus of these presentations will be to examine ways in which artists have attempted to portray the reality and meaning of God-in-our-midst; how art reflects on theological concepts such as the Christian claim to have ‘seen’ God in Christ Jesus, and to have ‘seen’ salvation.”

Dr. Lucinda Mosher is a consultant, educator, and author on multi-faith concerns. Currently, she is Faculty Associate for Interfaith Studies at Hartford Seminary, founding instructor for the annual Worldviews Seminar at The University of Michigan-Dearborn, and a researcher for Auburn Seminary and other agencies. Her publications include the Faith in the Neighborhood book-series.

Part I of Dr. Mosher’s lecture, titled “Incarnation and Epiphany” is held on January 12; Part II, “Faces of Jesus,” takes place on January 19. Both lectures, on these Thursdays, will be in the St. Ann’s Parish Hall at 157 Montague St. following the 6 p.m. Eucharist.

Dr. Mosher will also be the guest preacher at the Eucharist on Sunday, January 8 at St. Ann’s.

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Series Aims to Deepen Knowledge Of Jewish Prayer and Time

The Brooklyn Heights Synagogue has a series of programs to begin or deepen one’s understanding of prayer and time within Judaism.

The BHS’ Lifelong Learning series is offered on Sunday mornings during January from 10 a.m. to noon. The series begins with an “Introduction to Jewish Prayer.” Participants will explore Jewish prayer through a close look at the Friday night Shabbat worship service: individual prayers and some of their histories, and the spiritual nature of Shabbat as reflected in the liturgy. The class will also examine psalms that make up Kabbalat Shabbat (the first part of the worship service).

“Introduction to the Jewish Bookshelf,” offered on January 22, aims to make the collection of Jewish liturgy and law more familiar. This class will explore the canon of Jewish texts that provide Judaism’s foundational stories and laws. Participants will examine the major texts as well as their context including the Hebrew bible, the Talmud and the Mishnah, some later Jewish law codes, and different collections of biblical interpretations. Class participants will receive a timeline of the texts and a bibliography.

The third program, on January 29 gives an “Introduction to Jewish Time: Examining the Jewish Calendar Through Holidays and Customs.” This class will provide a basic understanding of the structure of the Jewish calendar: Why the holidays fall when they do? How our holidays connect to different seasons? And how and why Jewish time has helped to shape so many customs and practices we still follow today? Participants can attend one, two or all of the classes, and knowledge of Hebrew is not required. For more information, contact the Brooklyn Heights Synagogue at 718-522-2070.

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Congregation Mount Sinai hosts a book discussion of In the Image by Dara Horn.

This first novel of author Dara Horn, In the Image unfolds the story of Leora through the death of a friend in high school and on to college, career, and falling in love, while simultaneously tracing the story of Bill Landsmann, her lost friend’s grandfather, back to Amsterdam, Austria, and New York’s Lower East Side. Each story is simply told and yet is also a foray into the nature of good and evil, of the significance of tradition and the law, of the presence or absence of God.

In the Image won the National Jewish Book Award in 2003.

The discussion takes place at 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday January 10; this reflects a date change. Those wishing to attend should RSVP by phone or email the Mount Sinai office: 718-875-9124, or

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Carroll Gardens Church Hosts Blood Drive

St. Paul’s Episcopal Church hosts its -annual blood drive for the NY Blood Bank. Close to 2,000 donations are needed each day in the New York/New Jersey community for patients who require a life-saving blood and/or platelet transfusion. Those in need include cancer patients, accident, burn or trauma victims, surgery or a transplant patients and newborn babies.

The Blood Drive takes place this Saturday, January 7, from 10:30 a.m. until 4:30 p.m. The entrance to the Parish Hall is on Carroll Street between Court and Clinton streets.

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