Sept. 2016

 “How The Brick Church Got Its Name”

By Barbara Meachin.

Some Presbyterian churches in New York are named for their seniority: First and Second. Others for their location: Fifth Avenue and Madison Avenue. But only Brick Church is named for its building material. Why was a brick building so startling?

In the years before the American Revolution, Presbyterians worshipped in a modest wooden building on Wall St. The congregation lived nearby and walked to church. As the city grew, the Wooden, or Wall Street, Church congregation outgrew its building. So the session decided to build a second church for those who had moved northward to the edge of the city. They chose a small lot on the corner of Beekman and Nassau and erected a glorious brick structure in 1767. The first service probably took place on New Year’s Day, 1768.

Today a Pace University building sits on that land, just south of where the Brooklyn Bridge empties into Manhattan. It’s across the street from City Hall Park.

Eventually the two congregations under a single session split up. The Wall St. Church was the antecedent of First Presbyterian Church and The Brick Church became the official name of the Beekman/Nassau St. congregation. So you could say that First is either our mother or sister church.

Of course we didn’t stay in that location. When the neighborhood around City Hall Park changed, the leaders decided to remain a parish church that people could walk to. They built the next church on 5th Avenue and 37th St., then a residential area popular with the congregation. Once again the session chose bricks. This second building was completed just before the Civil War. Today Lord & Taylor occupies that site.

But Presbyterians kept moving. In the 1930s, the corner of Park Ave. and 91st St. was an appealing location in an area where many members lived. The third brick building for The Brick Church – our present church – was completed in 1940.

There have been two constants throughout this history that are likely to continue far into the future: dedication to serving the membership where they live, and doing so in fine brick buildings.


“250 Years”  

By Michael Lindvall 

250 Years…is a long time. Several years ago, when the Session began to make plans for the marking of this milestone in the life of our congregation, we discovered several names for a 250th anniversary. We toyed with “sestercentennial” and “quadramillenial,” both real words but each a tad obscure, so we settled for the obvious. I remarked then, as I did in this column in the June issue of The Record, that churches should celebrate their past for the sake of their future. That is to say, we remember who we have been as a community of Christians so that we might better understand who we are called to become as a community of Christians.

The Celebration Committee quickly indentified what they named the “four pillars” that have long supported the way Brick Church lives out the Christian faith: “worship, fellowship, ministry, and education.” All four have been pillars of our life together for 250 years and will surely be so in the years to come. The challenge is to do each of them in a way that is both faithful to the Gospel and engages the changing world we are living in. This, above all, is the reflective task of an anniversary celebration.

We’ll do this at a series of grand events planned by the Celebration Committee, events which will stretch from mid- September of this month to the end of May 2017. These include four Anniversary Sundays spread over the year, an Anniversary Festival of Hymnody in October, a grand Anniversary Launch Party on Sept. 30, a celebratory Anniversary Evening on the first Wednesday in May (in lieu of the Congregational Meetings and Dinner) and lastly, an Anniversary Ice Cream Social on 92nd Street in late May (in lieu of the Annual Strawberry Festival). Three of the Anniversary Sundays will see guest preachers (I was asked to preach the first); all four will feature anniversary-related adult education seminars just before worship. There will be a remarkable new history of the Brick Church available for purchase, as well as anniversary paraphernalia, historical displays, a newly-commissioned choir anthem… I could easily go on, way beyond the word count allowed in this column.

And of course, the Church and School are engaged together in a singular fund-raising effort that you will learn more about when the effort “goes public” later this month in conjunction with the annual 2017 Stewardship Campaign. Suffice it to say here that the anniversary “Campaign for Brick” has three goals: important capital improvements to our buildings, new and creative mission outreach, and enhancing the endowment to strengthen our future.

All of this – special worship and music, guest speakers, anniversary neckties, parties and fund raising – all of it is in celebration of the past for the sake of an even stronger future. Our changing and increasingly secular world presents ever-changing challenges to the Christian faith we hold dear. In such times, we dare not retreat. This intersection in time is our opportunity to advance – to bear witness in this great city to the love of Jesus Christ, and to do so doggedly, winsomely and courageously.


“George Washington, Samuel Osgood and The Brick Church” 

By Margaret Van Cott, Archives Committee

When New York City became the first capitol of the United States in 1789 the newly elected president needed a house for his family while residing here. A stalwart of the Brick Presbyterian Church happened to be living in a very stately mansion at 1-3 Cherry Street, and he offered it to President Washington. The church member (later Clerk of Session, President of the Board of Trustees and Elder) Samuel Osgood (1747-1813), was originally from Massachusetts, had previously studied theology at Harvard, been a colonel in the American Revolution, and was active politically. President Washington appointed Osgood to be the first Postmaster General for the new Federal government. Osgood’s second wife, Maria Bowne Franklin, whom he married in 1786 and by whom he had five children, was a member of the important Quaker Bowne family, and she was the widow of Walter Franklin, the previous owner of 1-3 Cherry Street.

Her first cousin happened to be the established Quaker cabinet maker .omas Burling. He was chosen to make furnishings in the Federal neo-classical style for the mansion, thanks to a grant from the congress, which detailed every item owned by the public in an Articles Furnished list. .e furnishings later went to Philadelphia to the next presidential mansion. Burling’s shop was a few doors down from the Brick Church, then called the New Church, on Beekman Street. It was convenient for Washington, Jefferson and Knox to drop by, and one of their visits there was recorded in a newspaper at the time. Burling privately made furniture for these men as well as for the Clinton family and for Robert R. Livingston, who administered the oath of office to Washington. Additionally Burling’s partner made furniture in the prevailing style, replete with Federal motifs of eagle, stars, laurel leaves and classical columns for the recently refurbished Federal Hall on Wall Street.

Going back to 1776, also known to General Washington was the minister, Dr. John Rodgers, of the New Church, which had become a jail and then a hospital in the hands of the British during the American Revolution. With the exception of a few loyalists, its members rushed from the city and did not return until the British departed on Evacuation Day in the fall of 1783.

A pillar for the Brooklyn Bridge now replaces 1-3 Cherry Street. Fortunately the Bowne stationers building can be visited in the South Street Seaport restoration, so a bit of history of the neighborhood remains. Sadly, the Brick Church and Burling’s shop on Beekman Street have long vanished. So too has the resting place for Samuel Osgood, who published on religious subjects, and was buried on hallowed ground in a vault in the yard of his church on Beekman Street.