After the community was devastated by the closing of the beloved 111-year-old Saint Matthew’s Episcopal Church in Woodhaven a couple years ago, residents shuddered at the thought of what was to become of the historic building that has been called one of the finest examples of English gothic architecture on the East Coast.
Fears that the property, which includes a cemetery with 160 individual gravestones denoting burials from 1793 to 1892, would be sold cast long shadows across the neighborhood.
Those fears, however, were cast aside last week, when religious leaders and residents celebrated the beginning of a new life for the building at 85-45 96th St. All Saints Episcopal Church, which had been operating in Richmond Hill, is moving into the Woodhaven spot, and it celebrated its reconsecration with a well-attended ceremony last Friday night.
The Bishop of the Diocese of Long Island Lawrence C. Provenzano, along with other clergy, civic leaders and residents gathered on the corner of 96th street and Jamaica Avenue for the reconsecration.
“We are here to dedicate this to God’s mission in this community,” said Provenzano. “This is the doing of God’s people.”
Provenzano led the group in prayer and then down the street to the doorway of the church. He knocked on the doors, blessed them and welcomed anyone who wanted to come inside. Once inside, the bishop proceeded with the dedication of the font, the consecration of the Chapel of St. Matthew, the dedication of the lectern and the dedication of the pulpit.
Once done, the church was blessed and mass was able to proceed.
The All Saints Church also presented the installation of Rev. Dr. Norman Whitmire, Jr. as their seventh rector.
“It means a lot,” said Whitmire. “It’s a new beginning in my journey as a priest.”
The move is important for the All Saints congregation.
“The move will provide the opportunity to do new and great ministry in the Woodhaven community,” said Whitmire. “When this church closed down two years ago those opportunities were lost. By being here we are able to witness this community and I hope that we will be a beacon to the community and transform lives.”
Members of the All Saints Church is thankful to all those who have helped make this move possible. Whitmire was thankful to all of those that sacrificed and labored to not only make the move possible, but to do it in such quick time.
Provenzano was grateful to those that helped the move now, but also to those that helped build St. Matthew’s before they moved in.
“We cannot just move in,” he said. “This is the work of God’s people that came before us and we must have hearts that are grateful.”
Those that have helped with the move are glad to see the All Saints congregation move in.
“It is such a lovely church to begin with it just deteriorated over the years,” said Steve Blake, who helped with the restoration of the church. “We didn’t do a lot to the church itself, [we did work on] the sanctuaries, a little bit of alter work and some exterior work. It is a gorgeous building and I hope they [All Saints congregation] are happy with it.”
“I’m really glad,” said Debbie Smith, who used to be a member to St. Matthew’s church. “It’s great because it is going to be open again, it was too sad to see it close. I hope they love it like we did.”
The All Saints congregation is hoping to bring God to a community that as Provenzano said in his sermon, elect to not have a religious preference. They welcome anyone who is interested to go visit the church.
“If we are all God’s people, the church needs to be on a mission for everyone,” he said.
By Michael Florio