Fort Greene and Boerum Hill Historic Churches Receive Sacred Sites Grants

The Next Step Community Church in Boerum Hill, in the historic Baptist Temple building, is known for its work helping the homeless and others in need. Photo courtesy of New York Landmarks Conservancy

The New York Landmarks Conservancy’s Sacred Sites Program awarded $75,000 for repairs to two historic churches in Brooklyn, out of a total of $271,250 awarded in grants to historic religious buildings across New York State.

The Conservancy, a nonprofit organization dedicated to historic preservation, donated $50,000 to Lafayette Avenue Presbyterian Church in Fort Greene as well as $25,000 to Next Step Community Church in the Historic Baptist Temple building at Boerum Hill.

“Our grants are important for the maintenance of historic religious institutions,” said Peg Breen, president of the New York Landmarks Conservancy. “But our aid also helps these institutions provide life-saving assistance to their communities. These recent beneficiaries have food and outreach programs reaching more than 32,000 people.

The Lafayette Avenue Community Church at 85 South Oxford St. is considered one of Brooklyn’s finest Romanesque Revival church structures, completed in 1862 using designs by the architectural firm Grimshaw & Morrill.

Founded by noted abolitionist, Reverend Theodore Ledyard Cuyler, the congregation has a continuing history of advocacy for political and social causes; in the mid-19th century it was the headquarters of the Brooklyn Abolition Movement. The Sacred Sites Grant will help fund masonry work to waterproof and stabilize foundation walls and brick pillars.

The congregation continues in its social justice roots, reaching more than 3,500 people annually with activities and partnerships such as the Irondale Theater Center, Business Outreach Center Network (BOCNet), Fort Greene/Clinton Hill Parent Cooperative Playgroup, the Audre Lorde Project (an organization for LGBT people of color) and more.

It also features performances and concerts by local artists and performing arts organizations. These include the Brooklyn Jazz Consortium, Brooklyn Contemporary Chorus, Brooklyn Conservatory Chorale, Brooklyn Jazz Orchestra, and Ithaca Opera Company, as well as the congregation’s Inspirational Ensemble and Jazz Vespers services.

The Next Step Community Church at 360 Schermerhorn Street was known for most of the recent past as the Baptist Temple and was organized as the First Baptist Church. The church, Brooklyn’s oldest Baptist congregation, completed the building in 1895. The sanctuary is a classic example of the “Akron plan” popularized in the late 19th century by prolific Akron-based architect George Kramer.

In 2010, an electrical fire damaged the roof and the sanctuary. Despite this, the congregation reaches over 1,000 people outside of its membership with activities such as a weekly food pantry and feeding program; distribution of diapers, infant formula and clothing; recovery meetings; preparation of voluntary tax returns and outreach to social services; hygiene kits and showers and an annual Thanksgiving banquet. It also serves as a physical address for homeless neighbors to receive mail.

The Lafayette Avenue Presbyterian Church in Fort Greene, known for its advocacy of various political and social causes. Photo courtesy of New York Landmarks Conservancy

The Sacred Sites Program provides congregations with matching grants for planning and implementing outdoor restoration projects, as well as technical assistance and workshops. Since 1986, the program has pledged 1,588 grants totaling more than $15.2 million to 836 religious institutions statewide.

The New York Landmarks Conservancy has led efforts to preserve and protect New York City’s architectural heritage for nearly 50 years. Since its founding, the Conservancy has loaned and granted more than $54 million. The Conservancy has also provided countless hours of pro bono technical advice to building owners, both nonprofit organizations and individuals.