“I hope its doors will always be open to everyone who loves the Lord Jesus Christ and wishes to do His will.”
So wrote Mrs. Russell Sage in a letter to the Church-in-the-Gardens’ Pastor; Dr. Robert J. Kent in 1913. In the spirit of her words, our Church was born.
So much of our church’s history is intertwined with the history of its surrounding neighborhood, Forest Hills Gardens. During the beginning of the 20th century Mrs. Russell Sage was approached by visionaries such as Clarence Perry to finance the building of a planned neighborhood for people from different class levels as well as denominations. Hence Forest Hills Gardens was created. Shortly afterwards, many of its new homeowners indicated their desire to have a church started which would reflect their religious beliefs.
But what kind of church could incorporate people from differing religious backgrounds?
The fledgling congregation, even before it had a name, commissioned five members from five different denominational backgrounds to meet and dream together. They proposed a simple charter and faith statement to the whole congregation, and after polling each person involved, decided our church would be a Congregational church, so people from various denominations would be welcomed. They wanted a church that would fellowship with other churches yet remain totally independent of external control. Instead, the new church would be self governing and issue its own statement of faith.
The Congregationalists first came to American in 1620, on the Mayflower, escaping religious persecution in England. Though the early “Pilgrims” look peculiar to us now, the faith tradition they established has evolved to become one that welcomes all people, no matter what, and invites each person to find a vital connection to God through the magnificent reflection of God we see in Jesus Christ.
The Church-in-the-Gardens held its first worship service in October of 1912, in a store in Station Square. Forty people were present. Next came the donation of the current church property, on the corner of Ascan Avenue and Greenway North, and a temporary, portable wooden chapel. In 1914, Mrs. Sage arranged to have our lovely sanctuary building built. It was dedicated in 1915. Almost a century later the building is still there, and so are we.
Tucked within the church tower are historic records dating back as far as 1913. Thanks to the many hours put in by volunteers, these archives are well organized making researching a breeze. Collections include church reports, hand-written minutes, bulletins and photographs.
Our archives have proved helpful to those researching material for books and magazine articles. Especially since some of our past members have included such notables as Branch Rickey, the General Manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers who signed on Jackie Robinson, Thema Ritter, three-time Oscar nominee for Best Supporting Actress and Dale Carnegie of “How to Win Friends and Influence People”, fame.
Lee Lowenfish, author of “Branch Rickey: Baseball’s Ferocious Gentleman”, and Cheryl Cuddeback, lifetime church member and writer for "The Forest Hills Celebrity and Entertainment Magazine, have taken full advantage of our Archive Room’s rich and well organized material.
At one time architect, Grosvenor Atterbury’s plans for our church also part of our archives. Due to inadequate space and staff to properly maintain them, these plans were transferred to Atterbury’s alma mater, Columbia University, where they may be found in its Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library. The Avery library provided the church with a microfilm copy of the plans. For more information go to: www.columbia.edu/cu/lweb/indiv/avery).
The committee plans to scan older periodicals. Not only is the paper of some of the bulletins and programs de-composing with age, these invaluable heirlooms would be more accessible on-line.
With the church’s centennial celebration only several years away, the committee is planning an Oral History Project at the church. These would also eventually be included in the church’s archives.
If you are interested in visiting the Archive Room please contact the Church’s office at 718-268-6704. There is a suggested contribution.