Congregants at one local house of worship are celebrating their church’s centennial this month.
The Evangelical Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd, at 2139 New York Avenue, marked the 100th anniversary of its first service on September 8th, with members of the congregation looking ahead to a special anniversary service and dinner on September 21st.
The service will be held in the church at 3 p.m.., with the dinner to take place at Buckley’s, Nostrand Avenue and Avenue S, beginning at 5:30 p.m.
While the congregation has hit the century mark, the sanctuary is somewhat newer. Indeed, noted Charles Freiburger, the church’s financial secretary, the first service was held in a store on Fenimore Street, a good distance from where the congregation eventually took root.
Construction on the church began in 1926, and was completed in 1929, said Freiburger.
“We decided to locate into an area that was comparatively new,” Freiburger explained. “This was a relatively new area, with new homes and new families moving in.”
That resulted in a thriving congregation. In addition, a church history credits the baby boom of the 1950s with an increase in church membership.
Growth was incremental, according to a church history. In the structure’s early days, folding chairs stood in for pews. But, by the 1940s, there were additions, including an organ and decorative paneling, and, by 1950, a timbered porch.
Today, the congregation is facing changing times and a changing neighborhood, both of which have resulted in a diminution of membership, particularly among young people. But, efforts are being made to bring in new worshippers, said congregants as well as the church’s current spiritual leader, the Reverend Hugo Berger.
“The past 20 or 30 years have been transitional,” remarked Betti Altieri, the congregation’s vice president. “A lot of older people have passed away or moved away. We have gotten a lot of new members, become diversified, and there are a lot of members from outside the neighborhood. I moved away, but I still go there.
“We’re always looking for new members,” Altieri went on, “but I think most congregations are. We don’t have many young people, so we are working on trying to get younger families in and building up for the youth.
“We are a close-knit congregation,” she stressed.
“We are studying ideas, trying to decide some plans about the future,” noted Berger. “It’s still not very clear. We have a sense that we have to be open to the community and give some service, like a nursing home or an assisted living or a day care center, so we can get more connected with the community.”
For the meantime, Berger added, outreach is limited to “family and friends. But,” he emphasized, “we are planning to do outreach through service to the community. We have a very nice community. People care for each other. We hope to keep that alive in the new generation, which has different values and needs we want to address.”
Ties with old parishioners are strong, Berger added. For the 100th anniversary celebration, he said, former parishioners are expected from as far away as Texas and Florida. “Even though they have moved somewhere else, they still feel very connected with us, they still feel they are part of the church,” he commented.
Attendance at the 100th anniversary dinner costs $50 per person. Contact the church at 718-338-5532 for further information.