Brooklyn Congregation Without Sanctuary for Christmas

The congregation at First Reformed Church in Park Slope won't be able to mark Christmas at its sanctuary this year

By Ida Siegal
|  Friday, Dec 23, 2011  |  Updated 5:36 PM EDT
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Brooklyn Sanctuary Closed for Christmas

NBC New York

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A historic church in Brooklyn is going to be without its storied sanctuary this Christmas. 

The First Reformed Church in Park Slope is the oldest congregation in the borough and has been holding Christmas service in the church’s original sanctuary, built in 1891.

But a few months ago church leaders noticed that the 60-foot-high ceiling was starting to fall apart. The ribbing was becoming detached from the plaster and it was no longer safe to hold services in the majestic main sanctuary. 

The news was a blow to Pastor Daniel Meeter, who gives sermons to a large crowd on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Thursday, he showed NBC New York large chunks of plaster gathered on stage to demonstrate how much of the ceiling had already come down.

“We get hundreds and hundreds of people here," said Meeter. "Well, that's not going to happen."

Instead, they’ll hold the service in an upstairs room that can only fit less than half of the 500 people they are expecting. For the first time in 120 years, they’ll have to turn people away from Christmas service.

“I was crying," Meeter said. "I was up in the attic, I was crying.”

Christmas service at First Reformed Church is an especially grand ceremony that attracts the faithful, not just from the immediate Park Slope neighborhood but from around the borough. They come to admire the tall ceilings, the original stained glass windows donated by famous Brooklyn families before the turn of the century, and the newly restored pipe organ that sits high above the pews.

Parishioner Sal Savona does not live near the church, but was looking forward to spending his first Christmas here since joining the congregation last year.

“I live in Bensonhurst and I come all the way down here," he said. "So it’s very important to me.”

A plan is not yet in place to start the complicated job of reattaching all the ribbon on the ceiling. But the congregation knows it won’t be cheap: the work could cost as much as $1 million. It’s money the church does not have.

But the church hopes to get Christmas service back into the historic main sanctuary in two years.

“We have no idea how we’re gonna do it," Meeter said. "We’re confident we can do it.”

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