New House of Worship Replaces 147-Year-Old Church

New House of Worship Replaces 147-Year-Old Church
Clergy and acolytes preparing to enter the new St. Stephen and St. Martin’s Episcopal Church at 789 Jefferson Avenue.

BEDFORD-STUYVESANT: Penny Grinage was five years old when she began Sunday School at St. Stephen & St. Martin’s Episcopal Church in Bedford Stuyvesant.

Back then, the church boasted a white wood façade, stained windows and sat nestled between two empty lots. More than five decades later her house of worship sits boldly on the corner of Jefferson and Patchen Avenues in a new state-of-the-art structure.

“This means a lot to us,” Grinage said who has since raised her own 20-something-year-old children in the church. “This new church has been 25 years in the making.”

Grinage, 63, joined hundreds of parishioners and friends of the church on Saturday to consecrate the new building at 789 Jefferson Ave.

At the start of the ceremony, Bishop Lawrence Provenzano of the Long Island Diocese led a five-block procession from Varick AME Zion church on Quincy St. –– the same place congregates worshipped in the basement during the three-year renovation project.

“It’s a small church with a big heart and that’s what held us together,” Grinage said.

The new 10,000-square foot structure replaces a 147-year-old building, which for the past 20 years had been propped up by four steel beams. The crumbling structure was demolished in 2015 and adjacent plots remained barren.

Bishop Lawrence Provenzano of the Long Island Diocese greets parishioners of the St. Stephen & St. Michae’s Episcopal Church.

While the church’s fundraising efforts helped spur the project along, the Rev. CN. Audley Donaldson credits developers Notias Construction for making the new church a reality.

The construction company purchased a large swath of the church’s land with the agreement they would build a new home for the parish in addition to the planned residential complex. Now 41 middle-income apartment units flank the new stucco church.

Shaneekua Henry –– the first African American woman to design a church for the Long Island Diocese –– designed the 2-story parish (including a basement), which now houses an elevator, a public announcement system and a balcony.

The new church fits over 300 people, more than twice the size of the previous location. The hard wooden pews in the old building were replaced with free-standing chairs so that the church’s sanctuary serves as a multi-purpose facility.

“We built this church with open doors and anyone that wants to join us, is welcome,” said Donaldson, the rector of the church for the past 11 years.

Like Grinage, who now serves on the church’s vestry, other parishioners welcome the new building and a chance to settle into their new house of worship.

“I’m really excited,” said Tyrone Allman, 47, who has been a member for more than two decades.

“We’re back home,” he added.