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Faithful say good-bye to Astoria church

The clicking sounds of disposable cameras given to members of the First Presbyterian Church of Astoria rang out Sunday as parishioners prayed and captured memories during the final service at the nearly 90-year-old church, which will be demolished to make way for senior housing.

The church, established in 1922 at 33rd Street near Broadway, will move into the new development when it is completed in 2010. High costs and a dwindling membership prompted church members in an April 2006 vote to sell the land to a cause that would help the community.

Most church members who opposed the sale left the church, according to the Rev. Don Olinger, the church's minister.

"It's a time to weep, a time to mourn, a time in which we will look and realize in the next year these walls will be torn down," Olinger said during the final Mass. "As members of the Christian faith, we realize that there has to be death in order to have a resurrection. It's a time of ending and a time of beginning."

U.S. Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-Astoria), a member of the First Presbyterian Church in Manhattan, attended the final service. She helped secure $600,000 for the Hellenic-American Neighborhood Action Committee, the organization that will build the senior housing.

"The church has served the community so beautifully for so many years and will continue to do so," she said.

In the 1950s, the church had more than 1,200 members and attracted the most Sunday school participants in the city, Olinger said. But it now has fewer than 50 parishioners.

Disposable cameras were handed out to church members at the start of the 10:30 a.m. service, and Olinger encouraged worshipers to shoot away as the congregation bid farewell to the building.

"This congregation has done amazing things," he said.

Olinger handed out flowers in thanks to three parishioners — the longest standing member of the church, the last to have her communion there and to another who joined after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, but is leaving to take care of her mother in Arizona.

Reach reporter Howard Koplowitz by e-mail at hkoplowitz@timesledger.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 173.

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