Categories: Life & Arts
The congregants of First Reformed Church of Schenectady consider themselves to have a long history of not only worship but also engagement in the community.
“This congregation to me embodies both a beautiful combination of rich liturgical, joyful expression of faith — its preaching, music and liturgy and looking forward to that which God is doing still in this community and the world,” said the Rev. Daniel Carlson, associate minister.
The church, at 8 N. Church St. in the city’s historic Stockade district, is celebrating its 330th anniversary this weekend with a sold-out brunch at the Stockade Inn following its Sunday service.
The faith community, today numbering about 700, has been home to such notables as the Rev. George R. Lunn, who resigned as pastor in 1909 to become Schenectady’s only Socialist mayor. Another pastor, the Rev. Clark V. Poling, who served from 1939 to 1943, was one of the four chaplains who died on Feb. 3, 1943, aboard the U.S. troop transport ship Dorchester after it was struck by a German torpedo off the coast of Greenland. Poling and the other three chaplains helped soldiers onto lifeboats and gave up their life preservers to others so the men could make it to safety.
That spirit of service continues today. Two of First Reformed’s members, Senior Elder Andrew Chestnut and Cathy Lewis, chairwoman of the church’s finance committee, were elected this week to the Schenectady Board of Education, and another member, Margaret King, is on the City Council.
The church has people working with Habitat for Humanity, the Schenectady Inner City Ministry, the Damien Center and other local nonprofit agencies.
The Rev. Stacey Midge, associate minister for mission, outreach and youth, serves on the SICM Steering Committee and Damien Center Task Force and is starting on the Safe Inc. board. “This church holds its tradition very highly,” Midge said.
The church was started by Dutch settlers and has always been inclusive and welcoming to the community. There were Native Americans worshiping there in its earliest days, according to the Rev. Bill Levering, pastor. During the early settlement days, the church for a time issued currency for the community: “We were merchants and capitalists, and we wanted to make sure things were bought and sold.”
Midge said that shows the church was involved in both the spiritual and worldly matters. “It does both of those things and doesn’t really separate them out,” she said.
Levering said the church has always also had a reputation as a place of reason. Church officials, along with representatives of a couple of other congregations, helped start Union College. Today, First Reformed hosts lectures once a month.
The congregation has also been very concerned about the environment and has started a “Green Team.”
Yet at the same time, Carlson said, there is a “playfulness” among the congregation. There are jazz vespers on Sundays. They also have what they call “frolics” — different fun outings.
There is a bell choir, church choir, adult trips, a men’s group, women’s group and Bible study.
The church is on its fifth sanctuary. The first one, at Church and State streets, was destroyed in the 1690 Schenectady massacre and the pastor was killed, reportedly on the eve of his wedding. The second and third were taken down and replaced with bigger buildings. A fire destroyed the fourth. The current structure was gutted by fire in February 1948 but was restored.
Members view it as fitting that they are celebrating their anniversary at the same time as Pentecost, the religious holiday that honors the birth of the Christian church.
“Our idea is a church of the open mind, the warm heart, the hopeful spirit,” Levering said.