West Village church celebrates 200 years as a ‘safe space’ for community

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Jazz music blared on Sunday from the steps of the 200-year-old St. John’s Lutheran Church on Christopher Street in the West Village – with jovial tunes permeating the street and in the ears of passers-by – as the congregation of the house of worship celebrated its bicentenary.

The church celebrated all weekend with an open house for people to see historical artifacts from the shrine, discussions about the history of the church, concerts, worship, and a “Celebration of” program. sacred space ”which included music, reflections, poetry and a theatrical performance.

The bicentenary was an ode to the history of Saint John, where it is now and what the future holds.
The church was built in 1821, when the nation was only 33 years old. At its birth, farms and houses surrounded the place of worship; today it’s a staple in the middle of the concrete jungle.

“It’s great to think that this space has been around for 200 years and has consistently provided a safe space for everyone in the community who needed it and continues to do so,” said Melinda Lando, congregation president.

Erik Bottcher, Democratic candidate for the seat of the 3rd arrondissement city council, said that in today’s world it is more important than ever to have places where people come together and gather and that is what that the church provides.

On behalf of the New York City Council, Bottcher presented a proclamation to the church commemorating the 200th anniversary during the “Celebration of Sacred Space” celebration.

The celebration drew people from the neighborhood who had never attended church before. Many stopped to listen to the outdoor jazz concert and read about the church’s 200-year history.

“It’s good. I just found out that it has been here for 200 years,” said Dylan Reider, who was going to run in the area.

More than an old church

Passers-by enjoy jazz music at St. John’s Lutheran Church in the West Village.Photo by Haeven Gibbons

Bottcher said St. John’s is more than just a church.

“It’s a community center, a neighborhood gathering space and it’s a refuge for the lost and marginalized in our community,” Bottcher said. “For 200 years, it is difficult to quantify the number of people served and helped, but it is a cause of great celebration.

When St. John’s began with a small congregation of German immigrants in 1855, the church served as a place for German-speaking immigrants to connect with their culture and share their language. Today, it has grown into an inclusive church that embraces the arts and culture of the West Village.

“Everyone is welcome,” said Mark Eson, pastor of St. John’s Lutheran Church. “The contrast is, when it first opened, everyone was the same, and now it’s all about diversity and we want to reach out in any way we can to serve as many diverse communities as possible.”

The church engages with the West Village community in a variety of ways.

He has a rich link with the artistic community: several theater companies in the region are in residence at the church and use the space to rehearse, a set for a play is hidden behind the altar on stage, the church welcomes singer-songwriter open mic evenings, poet open mic evenings and a gospel showcase in which ballroom artists perform live gospel music.

Through these events, people can see themselves represented in church, Eson said.

“We say, ‘be yourself and bring all that you love about your culture and your expression,’ and we have a place for you,” Eson said.

St. John’s Music Director Janet Sora Chung, who performed JS Bach’s Goldberg Variations on the church’s 1961 Austin Manual organ during Saturday celebrations, said she couldn’t help but think about the many ways the shrine has served the community, and the varied meanings and functions of the space for those who have passed through the doors.

“From farmland to the Stonewall riots to 9/11, our shrine has gone through tremendous changes and through it all has managed to be a place of rest and restoration,” said Sora Chung.

In 200 years, the church has not only changed socially but structurally.

The benches are no longer fixed to the floor and the parquet has replaced the carpet to facilitate the movement of the benches. The exterior has also been restored over the years, but the main changes have taken place inside to reflect a modern church.

“We made the church more welcoming,” said Carmen Fedrik, a member of the church since 1974. The pews are movable and the church is used by more people for a variety of things, she said. .

Fedrik started attending church by accident 47 years ago. She was new to the neighborhood and wanted to find a home church. She was walking to an episcopal church in the neighborhood and got off the wrong track. She ended up in St. John’s and has since returned.

Fedrik said that while the church was already inclusive when it started attending, it has become more inclusive over the years as more people have come to see that all are welcome in St. John’s. .

“Happy Birthday St. Johns,” said Daniel Neiden, Head of Village Yontiff, who spoke at the “Celebration of Sacred Space” celebration.


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