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Holy war! Green Church won’t let us see contents of the 1900-era time capsule

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A Bay Ridge congregation that enraged neighborhood preservationists when it tore down the historic Green Church took the bizarre step of hiding the contents of the turn-of-the-last-century time capsule recovered from the demolished building.

Members of the Bay Ridge United Methodist Church — whose landmark-worthy church was torn down in 2008 to make room for a smaller building at the corner of Fourth and Ovington avenues — refused to share the contents of the time capsule at their 180-year anniversary celebration on Sunday, despite a public invitation to join the festivities.

Reporters and photographers showed up to document the contents of the time capsule at the Greenhouse Café on Third Avenue, but Pastor Robert Emerick turned them away.

“This is a private event — we don’t want pictures,” Emerick said — ignoring the invitation in his own press release, “Visitors and guests are welcome.”

The secrecy comes after years of controversy over the former church, a green-toned, 109-year-old building that became the center of a neighborhood maelstrom when preservationists battled the congregation itself in an effort to save the soaring Gothic edifice. But the congregation sold part of the property and now shares facilities with the Good Shepherd Lutheran Church at Bay Ridge Parkway and Fourth Avenue.

Emerick said that workers would complete a “new modern church” on a portion of its former site — which will also host a public elementary school — in April, 2012.

“We look forward to the next 180 years of service to the community and the world,” Emerick said in his press release.

That could be, but for now, it remains unclear what happened over the past 180 years of service.

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Michael from Park Slope says:
A very curious state of affairs when a church refuses to share its history (its cultural significance) with the public. After all, a legitimate church's function is to serve the community (hence, the public), not turn it away. The visitors and guests (including reporters) who were initially "welcome" to this public event need to question such unwelcome treatment; indeed, they should be duly suspicious.
Nov. 25, 2010, 3:05 pm
Bob from Heights says:
Michael from Park Slope says: "A very curious state of affairs when a church refuses to share its history (its cultural significance) with the public. After all, a legitimate church's function is to serve the community (hence, the public),"

Wrong, Michael. Religious institutions aren't public parks or libraries. Their sole function is to serve their religious purpose (however they define it), they're supported by member donations, and their property is private.
They're not obliged to please the general public, satisfy community curiosity, or serve any purpose other than their own.

In this case, it's the church's time capsule, from the church's building and property, and the *church's* "180 years of service." If they wanted to define "visitors and guests" as non-press, they had a right to do so.

Frankly, I can see why they'd want to low-key it. Ever since the building brouhaha began, people have viewed the church as "public property" (and called it the Green Church, as if it existed for looks alone), tried to exert control of it, claimed that community wants trumped church needs, spun everything they've done as sinister, even had photogs and protesters show up when graves were being disinterred. There's been enough of a circus.
Nov. 29, 2010, 2:02 pm
Bob from Heights says:
PS, Michael -- I just checked out of curiosity, and a past Brooklyn Paper story said the capsule contained "a Bible, hymnal, church documents, photographs and a newspaper account of the capture of Manila."

The Times said it contained "a Bible, a hymnal, lists of church committee members, a photograph of an early local Methodist pioneer, a church history and pictures of the congregation’s past church buildings."

Most of those items are of interest to church members themselves. And if I, as "the public," wanted old church photos or an account of the capture of Manila, I wouldn't have to rely on some time capsule.

The B. P. also said that someone tried to steal the capsule two years back, couldn't find it, and stole a chunk of the dated cornerstone instead. That sounds like public "claiming" gone wild.
Given that and other events, I can see (again) why the church would want to avoid a circus and affirm some control over its own stuff.

Nov. 29, 2010, 3:22 pm
Michael from Park Slope says:
Bob--

Thanks for the reply; you've presented a very lengthy and cogent argument...not only in regard to my comment but with this article as well.

You’re absolutely correct when you say that churches are “supported by member donations and their property is private.” And that “they're not obliged to please the general public, satisfy community curiosity, or serve any purpose other than their own.” I stand corrected.

However, when a church issues a public invitation, I believe it has a social obligation to be at least courteous to the general public, fairly considerate of community curiosity, and reasonably generous towards purposes that may not reflect its own. I get the sense that this wasn’t the case at Green Church…for whatever rightful or wrongful reason.
Nov. 29, 2010, 7:32 pm
Sams from Brooklyn home says:
"a legitimate church's function is to serve the community (hence, the public), not turn it away."

My first inclination, too, was to address this sentence with a no, not necessarily. Bob did an excellent job, however.

When people want to come around out of inappropriate or bad intent, insensitive to the pain involved in the whole controversy, etc., here is the Biblical phrase that comes to mind: "don't throw your pearls to swine".
That applies to anyone who is disrespectful of our personal lives, also.

I do not wish to lay blame to anyone in the property controversy because I don't know the facts. Usually when attendance declines and a church body "dies out", the problem is spiritual. Not enough of the spiritual going on. We don't know why. The Spirit is elusive like the wind.

It is the presence of the Spirit that draws people, people who need healing and restoration in their (our) lives. When those needs aren't being met, people gradually leave.

A church is not supposed to be a social club, or else we could join the Montauk or some other club. Apparently the Spirit had left the building. I don't believe I saw that issue addressed in the preservation controversy.

I was saddened that the building was torn down, yet I didn't contribute funds to it.

I need to attend a church that is thriving where I can feel the divine Presence. In this day more than ever, people are suffering. We need answers that we cannot arrive at on our own.

Also, I have heard that the Holy Spirit cannot dwell where there is fighting. I wonder what really caused the decline of the Green church. It must have been something that came before the wrecking ball.
Dec. 2, 2010, 2:40 am
Michael from Park Slope says:
For a church whose "Spirit has left the building"--its congregation diminished, its church demolished--,a self-righteous issue of "pearls before swine" seems quite irrelevant. Nevertheless, the pastorship of Green Church could argue (through the ruins) that former congregants themselves, who perhaps left in search of more propitious Holy Spirit stomping grounds, were among the swine.
Dec. 3, 2010, 7:43 pm
Helen from Cobble Hill says:
Sams ... Nice sermon (ahem), but all mainline churches (Catholic included) are in decline ... and now even the evangelical-style megachurches are being hit.
Michael ... Your "swine" comment is disgusting.

I'm not even remotedly Methodist _and-but_ I'm appalled that you guys would vilify a congregation's spiritual state or refer to them as "swine."

(1) It's not the 1950s anymore. People are opting out of formal religious observance or finding other options, and are more mobile -- attending churches outside of their neighborhood, which might have the programs, involvements, etcetera that they're seeking.

(2) It impacts growth when a building is in disrepair - because too much budget goes to patch jobs, it's difficult for the disabled and elderly, activities become a hassle, and community groups can't use the space.
As any church person can tell you, everything suffers when you're cramped by a dysfunctional building and have to constantly pinch pennies or fundraise.

(3) Churches etcetera change as neighborhoods do. Brooklyn used to be _hugely_ Methodist; now it's heavily Catholic.
Though NYC is still heavily Catholic, the archdiocese has had to close churches and schools all over the city.
Bay Ridge used to be _hugely_ Scandinavian Lutheran; now one Lutheran church has been sold and another (as well as a synagogue) has struggled and plans to develop some of its space.
Churches also don't work for BR's growing Muslim, Asian, and Russian Jewish populations.

And we can be assured that, in every neighborhood, some churches that _look_ okay are struggling, living hand-to-mouth, scotch-taping themselves together, and depending on a few big donors, and will be in trouble if those donors retire to AZ, otherwise move, or can't give as they used to (or if some other delicate financial balance caves in). We just don't know about it ... yet.
Dec. 5, 2010, 3:45 pm

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