Old First’s sanctuary has been closed since 2011, due to safety concerns after decorative plaster fell from our ceiling, while hosting our neighbors from Congregation Beth Elohim during 2011 Rosh Hashanah services.
Brooklyn was once known as “The Borough of Churches,” but some of its most beautiful sanctuaries have already fallen. The Church of the Redeemer at Fourth Street and Atlantic Avenue and “The Green Church” in Bay Ridge are being torn down because their upkeep has become too burdensome. We can’t let that happen to Old First. Our building is a keeper—and it’s even listed on the National Register of Historic Places. As Brooklyn grows and new buildings rise all around us, churches like ours are becoming all the more valuable. They’re essential to our borough’s rich history, and few are more awe-inspiring than Old First.
WHAT NEEDS TO BE DONE
The first step is repairing our sanctuary, which is more than a matter of patching up some old plaster. The ornate plaster ceiling hangs from wooden supports above it, rather than being supported by bulky columns below (as in medieval cathedrals). Unfortunately, the metal fasteners that attach the ceiling to the superstructure have rusted and expanded over time, cracking the plaster. At the same time, the constant vibrations from truck and bus traffic over the past century and a quarter have caused chunks of plaster to fall. To fix the ceiling, workers will have to reattach the plaster panels to more than a half mile of wooden supports, a months-long process that will cost upwards of $850,000. To fully restore the rest of the sanctuary and repair the stained glass will run several million dollars.
HOW YOU CAN HELP
As a church, our mission has always been to help others, and we’re not as good at asking for help. But we need it. One of the greatest gifts we can give our neighbors is the use of our sanctuary. Your tax deductible donation, in any amount, will help insure that Old First can continue to welcome Park Slope’s musicians and artists, speakers and community groups. Help us connect with people around the world who love Brooklyn, New York history, historical preservation, Tiffany glass, community outreach, and spiritual community. By joining with us, they can help us save one of this city’s great spaces.
HOW DONATIONS WILL BE USED
All of the money raised in this campaign will go toward restoring the ceiling and sanctuary, bolstering funds already received. Old First will also apply for funds from a number of grant sources and family foundations, but we first have to demonstrate that the community is behind this project. Your contribution will help attract major funding in the future.
The entire project is being managed by Old First’s Steering Committee, which consists of Communications, Finance, Fundraising, and Project Management teams. Old First has also teamed with Michael Devonshire, noted Director of Conservation and a Partner at Jan Hird Pokorny Associates.
- “A Church Seeks a Rescue.” At Brooklyn’s Old First Reformed Church, one of New York City’s oldest churches, the sky is falling. Wall Street Journal, September 17, 2012.
- “Collapsed Ceilings Lead to Big Mitzvah.” After Shared Disaster, Beth Elohim Gives $15,000 to Church. The Jewish Daily Forward, June 4, 2012.
- “Historic Church to Celebrate Easter Services at Synagogue.” Brooklyn Daily Eagle, March 30, 2012.