A church is not a building; it’s a community of human beings who choose to follow Jesus Christ. A church is also not simply the sum of its history; rather, it is a present and living reality. That being said, the physical facilities in which a congregation gathers for worship, study, mission and fellowship do matter. Even though a church is here and now, its past has helped shape its present. The Brick Presbyterian Church, a living community of modern disciples, is blessed both with beautiful buildings and a rich history that house and have shaped that living community.
A Brief History of The Brick Presbyterian Church
The Brick Church has been in continuous operation since 1767, except for the years of the Revolutionary War, when it was commandeered by the British forces for use as a hospital and later as a brig. The church was an expansion of the flourishing First Presbyterian Church at Wall Street, which had become so crowded that it was plain a second church was necessary. Its pastors, headed by the Rev. Dr. John Rodgers, and its officers administered both churches. The Brick Church did not become a separate and incorporated entity until 1809.
The Brick Church has had three locations in New York City. Its first site was on Beekman Street. This spot is now occupied by Pace University’s downtown campus. The elders deemed a move necessary when it became apparent that the neighborhood was deteriorating and most of the members were moving uptown. Two wars, three epidemics and three great fires changed the area from residential to a neighborhood of boarding houses and commercial operations. The church moved to Fifth Avenue and 37th Street in 1858, and remained there until 1940, when, again, in response to the migration of its congregation, it relocated to its third and present site at Park Avenue and 91st Street.
The church has been blessed with gifted and distinguished pastors. Our first pastor, Dr. Rodgers, regularly corresponded with George Washington, was moderator of the first General Assembly in 1789, and was chaplain to the New York State Legislature. He would deliver a short (60 minute) action sermon on Communion Sundays, and close the street in front of the church during services to eliminate noise. He has been followed by many notable clergy, three of whom were elected moderator of the General Assembly.
Other distinguished clergy following the Rev. John Rodgers were: Gardiner Spring (1810-1873), James Ormsbee Murphy (1865-1875), Llewellyn Bevan (1877-1882), Henry Van Dyke (1883-1900), Maltbie Davenport Babcock (1900-1901), William Rogers Richards (1902-1910), William Pierson Merrill (1911-1938), Paul Austin Wolfe (1938-1964), D. Reginald Thomas (1965-1970), James Seth Stewart (1972-1974), and Herbert B. Anderson (1978-2001). It was during the pastorate of Dr. Wolfe that The Brick Church moved to the present location.
The Rev. Dr. Herbert B. Anderson, who retired in January 2001, had served as the senior minister of The Brick Church since 1978, and had been active on the national Presbyterian Church level, chairing The Board of Pensions and The Board of Trustees of The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Foundation.
The Rev. Michael L. Lindvall became the 13th installed pastor of The Brick Presbyterian Church on Oct. 27, 2002 and retired in Dec. 2017. Previously, he had served the First Presbyterian Church of Ann Arbor, Mich. as pastor of the multi-staffed church, for 10 years. During that time he was moderator of the Detroit Presbytery and served as chair of the General Assembly Committee on Church Orders and Ministry. Before his call to Ann Arbor, he was pastor at the First Presbyterian Church of Northport, N.Y. for 13 years and associate pastor of the Drayton Avenue Presbyterian Church in Ferndale, Mich. A graduate of Princeton Theological Seminary, Lindvall also attended the University of Wisconsin and the University of Michigan. He is the author of several books and many articles and essays.
The Reverend Dr. Kimberly L. Clayton was appointed as the Transitional Pastor/Head of Staff on March 15, 2018. Kim joined The Brick Church with an impressive history of experience within the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), both as a pastor to four congregations and as faculty at the Columbia Theological Seminary in Decatur, Georgia. Kim is a graduate of Columbia Seminary (MDiv’84, DMin ’08) and served as the Director of Contextual Education at Columbia. Before being called back to the seminary, Kim served as the Pastor/Head of Staff at Grace Covenant Presbyterian Church in Asheville, NC. Instrumental in the search committee’s ranking of Kim as the top choice among the applicants were the outstanding reference calls with those who know Kim well. They consistently described Kim as theologically and spiritually insightful, with a mastery of language that allows her to skillfully communicate in ways that are both accessible and thought provoking. They emphasized her warm, compassionate and insightful nature. These qualities served Kim well as she guided our congregation during the search for a permanent Senior Pastor.
On July 26, 2020, Rev. Dr. Thomas Evans was approved as the 14th Senior Minister of The Brick Presbyterian Church. Before coming to The Brick Church, he served as Senior Pastor and Head of Staff for First Presbyterian Church in Spartanburg, S.C., and prior to that, he served as Executive Presbyter for the Presbytery of Greater Atlanta. Tom also served in pastoral roles in churches in Idaho (1994), Arkansas (1996), and upstate New York (2000), and as Executive Presbyter in Birmingham, AL (2005). He graduated with a Master of Divinity (1994) and Doctor of Ministry (2003) from Princeton Theological Seminary. Tom is also a graduate of The College of William and Mary (1989) where he earned an B.A. in Mathematics.
Significant contributions to the body of sacred music have been made by several Brick Church clergy: William Pierson Merrill, Maltbie Babcock, Henry Van Dyke and Paul Austin Wolfe are all well known in this area. Clarence Dickinson provided outstanding musical leadership along with Helen Dickinson, who founded the School of Sacred Music at Union Theological Seminary in New York City. He was succeeded at The Brick Church by T. Charles Lee, also director of the Oratorio Society of New York, Eugene McCoy, and David A. Weadon. The most recent minister of music was Keith S. Tóth, who retired from The Brick Church in 2021.
NEW ARCHIVES ARRIVAL!
The Archives Committee reports the unexpected gift of a cache of treasures dating to the time of Rev. Gardiner Spring, the second Senior Minister of The Brick Presbyterian Church (1810-1863). It consists of copies of The Mother’s Magazine and Family Library a monthly periodical published in editions of about 300 pages a year “at the Brick Church Chapel opposite the Park.” The gift consists of the issues in 1842 and 1843, all edited by Mrs. A.G. Whittelsey (a member of the Church) and Rev. D. Mead and printed by D. Fanshaw.
The Brick Church Chapel was an annex to its Beekman Street edifice located near the epicenter of the printing trades in the City. It contained lecture rooms and offices used by the Church and other spaces rented to publishers and booksellers. These included the well-known Scribner publishing firm and later known M.W. Dodd, founder of the partnership known as Dodd & Mead.