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When the First Presbyterian Church in Jamaica was established in 1662, the area was a New Netherland settlement called Rustdorp, meaning “Quiet Village.”
Now 350 years later, downtown Jamaica is anything but quiet, but the nation’s oldest continually serving Presbyterian church continues to be the religious center of the lives of congregation members.
On Sunday, church members gathered in the Colonial-style building on 164th Street to kick off the 350th anniversary celebration.
“It blows my mind to begin with that one church can keep going that long,” said 91-year old Christina Ferro, the church’s longest-running member.
Ferro immigrated to the country from Scotland when she was 9, and from 1945 on First Presbyterian was an integral part of her life.
“I spent from 1945 to the early ’70s teaching Sunday school. Then I became the deacon and then I became an elder,” she said.
First Presbyterian established a Sunday school at a time when churches generally frowned upon them. The different schools it founded later grew into churches in Springfield, Woodhaven, Rosedale and St. Albans.
Ferro and her husband, James, were married at the church in 1947 and she has fond memories of attending holiday parties and the young couples club.
“It was mostly a social club. We used to have very good times together,” she recalled. “The people were doing the same kind of things. You didn’t know how their private lives were, but you knew they were living pretty much the same way we were. God was important to them.”
Most of the original members of the church came from Halifax in West Yorkshire, England. About 25 families gathered to form the church after being granted a charter by Gov. Peter Stuyvesant. The current building was built in 1813 on Jamaica Avenue and moved to its current location on 164th Street in 1920.
Its history follows that of the nation, from the days of the American Revolution on through the Civil War, when it hosted an entire regiment of Connecticut Yankee soldiers after a Long Island Rail Road train broke down on the way to an encampment.
Today, the Rev. Patrick Huh O’Connor wants to make the church more contextually relevant in its mission. In the last five years, the congregation has doubled in size to 750 active members.
Through the Tree of Life Outreach Center, the church provides a number of programs designed to improve the community’s quality of life, including educational classes, leadership initiatives for youth, a clothing closet, a food pantry and a soup kitchen.
The 350th Anniversary Committee has planned a series of events for the year, culminating with a banquet in June. The next scheduled event is the Heritage Sunday Food and Fashion Festival Feb. 26 at the church.
Reach reporter Rich Bockmann by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 718-260-4574.
©2012 Community Newspaper Group
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