about park church
A home for the community
for over 100 years
The Park Church began life in 1899 as the English Evangelical Lutheran Church of the Messiah, hosting its first services in a storefront on Kingsland Avenule. As its name suggests, this church was the only one of its denomination in Greenpoint to conduct services in English, for a largely German-American immimgrant population.
The congregation rapidly outgrew both its storefront home, and a later space in the basement of the Norwegian Lutheran Church on Russell Street, and in 1901, they purchased a 60′ by 100′ lot at 129 Russell St, facing what was then known as Winthrop Park–today’s McGolrick.
Construction on the congregation’s new church began in 1901. According to an article published by the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, construction costs were estimated at $25,000, “exclusive of the organ and Church furniture.” As originally designed by New York architects Dodge and Morrison, the Church was to have a steeple rising some 85 feet above the surrounding neighborhood. Obviously, this detail never materialized.
The finished church was consecrated on April 5, 1908, by which time costs had more than doubled to some $60,000. As the only English-language church in Greenpoint, which by that time had at least four other Lutheran churches (Including the still-operational St. John’s Lutheran Church on Milton St.), the English Evangelical Lutheran Church soon became known by a common, easily-remembered nickname: the Park Church. The name would wait in the wings for another 100 years, before being repurposed for the church’s modern-day chapter.
BECOMING PARK CHURCH
As with many religious organizations across New York City, the church saw its audience shrink drastically over the 20th century, and by 2008, the church celebrated it’s 100 year birthday with fewer than two dozen congregants.
The pastor at that time, Rev. Griffin Thomsa, described the church as something close to a tomb, unused saved for the poorly attended Sunday services. “Maybe three hours a week, the church was being used–out of seven days. The rest of the time, it was just locked up.”
With bankruptcy looming, the congregation chose to do two things: First, they elected to convey the church to “Synodical Administration,” essentially kicking the can down the road by giving the church to the Metropolitan New York Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America–an ecclesiastic holding-company overseeing numerous churches across the New York region. Second, they elected to open up their doors to alternative, non-religious community uses, first under Reverend Thomas, and later under a new pastor, the Reverend Amy Kienzle.
Arriving in August of 2013 with a mission to build a new community out of the dregs of the former congregation, “Pastor Amy” quickly ingratiated herself with the broader Greenpoint community, forming key partnerships with organizations including the Brooklyn Children’s Theater, the Brooklyn Public Library, and the local farmers’ market. To better reflect this renewed, community-oriented ethos, she changed the church’s name to something short and simple:
Park Church Co-op.
A COMMUNITY HOME
Under Pastor Amy’s watch, the Park Church blossomed. As the pace of gentrification gathered steam and rent spiralled upwards across the neighborhood, the Park Church Co-op became a refuge for all manner of commercial and non-commercial uses. From the alcohol-free all-ages dance parties of No Lights, No Lycra, to the low-cost one-room musical schoolhouse of Teacup Music, from low-cost French language daycare to the actual refuge provided to homeless residents of Greenpoint through partnership with Breaking Ground, the Park Church became known as an accessible, affordable community partner. The addition of all-ages musical acts (Cigarettes after Sex played an early Brooklyn show there; Damien Jurado was a more recent guest) made for a truly all embracing community ethos. It was as close to Judson Church as Greenpoint was gonna get.
However, even as the community responded favorably to the new Park Church, the Lutheran congregation for which it was dedicated continued to dwindle. A threat by the Synod to sell the church in 2018 was thwarted by community outcry, and through Pastor Amy’s embattled exhortations to the community and to the Synod.
The battle may have been won–the Church remained open–but with grant funding run out, Pastor Amy left for greener pastures.
Amy’s successor, Jake Simpson, held the unenviable position of having to be Pastor to a disheartened congregation during the middle of a pandemic against a minimally supportive Synod administration. While his tenure there was positively received, it seems clear that the MNYS had longsince determined to sell the building, and in December of 2021, reversing a previous pledge to keep the church funded, the Synod announced the end.