By Bruce Poli
In the long and varied history of New York City, no institutions have had more influence than churches. And there’s a good reason: they serve to heal and strengthen our communities.
Churches are found throughout the Greenwich Village Historic District. They were built as early as 1821 and as late as the 1970s, after the district’s designation in 1969.
It was Trinity Church—the Church of England—whose downtown members first pleaded with their pastor for a country parish to escape the Yellow Fever epidemic. The year was 1821, considered part of the most significant period in the development of our neighborhood, and the result was St. Luke’s in the Fields. That same year the Eighth Presbyterian Church was built on the newly named Christopher Street (formerly Skinner Road) as businesses were beginning to shape its pathway. A federal-style building with a domed cupola, the sanctuary served the Presbyterian congregation for about 20 years.
In 1842, the property was sold to St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church, whose members worshiped there until 1858 when it was purchased for $13,000 by German Lutherans. (Although Germans had settled primarily in the area east of the Bowery, some comprised a community that existed in Greenwich Village until the end of World War I.) Victorian features were added to the church in 1886 by Berg & Clark, and the pediment was inscribed, “Deutsche Evangelische-Lutherische St. Johannes Kirche.”
Known today as St. John’s Evangelical Lutheran Church, a progressive sanctuary for diverse communities—with programs and safe spaces for transgender, LGBTQIA, 12-step, and arts communities—the congregation is a member of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.
Among the events at the two-day celebration will be J.S. Bach’s Goldberg Variations, poetry and theatre performances, a jazz concert, an Inspirational Gospel Showcase, panel discussions, a festive liturgy with Bishop Paul Egensteiner sermonizing, and an historic panel discussion with Anna Marcum of Village Preservation.
St. John’s Lutheran Church, one of the oldest and most progressive religious congregations in Greenwich Village, is within the Greenwich Village Historic District as designated by the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission. It is an architectural jewel of religious, cultural, and social services devoted to the Village community for the past two centuries. Pastor Mark Erson has been continuing this enlightened tradition for the last 10 years.
St. John’s Lutheran Church Bicentennial Celebration: Saturday, September 18th, and Sunday, September 19th. The doors to the church will be open throughout the weekend, beginning at 11:00 a.m. on Saturday, while the church hosts the events celebrating the bicentennial. All attendees are requested to wear masks. For more detailed information, please visit the church website: stjohnsnyc.org.