Fifth Avenue & 11th Street

4 Jul

My trouble with writing these more often – besides being somehow simultaneously busy and lazy (I swear I am! Both!) – isn’t so much the trouble finding topics as it is choosing amongst the endless topics competing for my attention.  Do you know how many lists or tangents or whatnot I’ve started exploring and dropped and hope to get back to some day?  Do you know what kind of pressure that puts me under?  Do I know I went to 4 delis in the last few days and I couldn’t find a 6-pack of Bud Light Lime at any of them?  I mean, my god people!  What is this summer coming to?  On a happier note, it looks like the Presbyterian Church recently voted to allow gay marriage.  That’s cool.  But what is the Presbyterian Church exactly?  (You know, besides just being, like, Christian.)  Well I don’t know.  Let’s write about it!

They’re Protestant, of course, but I think we knew that already (well they ain’t Catholic right? Or Eastern Orthodox).  Their beginnings lie in the British Isles, especially in Scotland, around the middle of the 1550s, when one John Knox brought the teachings of John Calvin to the country.  The French-born John Calvin was a big name in the Reformation, with his system of Christian theology (Calvinism) that basically said man is totally depraved, only god chooses who will be saved – and not because of merit mind you, just because he’s feeling merciful – and that the ones he does choose will be obvious because they will stay good throughout life (the Perseverance of the Saints) while the ones who seemed good but then ended up being bad were just faking it.  Oh and Jesus only died to relieve the sins of the good people that God elected – not the rest of us (wait a minute, Jesus sounds like a conservative!)  Though French, Calvin put his teachings into practice by reforming and leading the church in Geneva, Switzerland (the French were sticking with Catholicism).  The term Calvinism was actually coined by Lutherans – after Martin Luther, the original Reformation big wig – who disagreed with the teachings of Calvin on several points.  Calvinism was, and still is, also known as the Reformed Tradition – of which Presbyterianism can be considered a subset.


The first Presbyterian congregation in New York traces its beginnings to the turn of the 18th century, back when being a Presbyterian in Anglican (aka Church of England) New York was not particularly welcome.  That dislike had its roots in the English Civil War of the 17th century – a civil war prompted in part by King Charles I trying to impose Anglican “High Church” practices on the Scottish Church.  The church revolted and openly established a Presbyterian form of government – that is, church rule by a representative assembly of elders (you know, as opposed to by some bishops and their ilk).  After some back and forth – and a lot of killing – the Church of Scotland was established as a Presbyterian church, as guaranteed by law by around 1690.

Still tensions were running high enough that the Presbyterian Francis Makemie, a missionary from the Church of Scotland who started preaching in New York in 1706, was eventually jailed by the Anglican government of the city for the “unlicensed” baptism of an infant.  He was acquitted and by 1716 a congregation had been formed supporting him – what would become First Presbyterian Church – with their first building built in 1719, near the intersection of Wall Street and Nassau.  That church would last till the Revolutionary War, when it was taken over by the British and used as a barracks and then a stable (they still weren’t fans of Presbyterianism) and eventually damaged beyond repair.  Two replacement churches burned down – the second one in the Great Fire of 1835 – and soon after the congregation decided to move “uptown” to Greenwich Village.  Their current building on Fifth Avenue and 11th Street – just up the street from the Church of the Ascension – was dedicated in 1846.  The church was designed in a Gothic style by the English-American Joseph C. Wells (one of the co-founders of the American Institute of Architects, which despite its name was seemingly founded by a bunch of Brits) and was supposedly modeled on the Church of St. Saviour in Bath, England.


There’s a lot more I could write about this particular church, I’m sure, but for now let’s add it to the list of things that I’m never going to get back to.  One thing worth noting though is that they are a part of Presbyterian Church (U.S.A), the largest Presbyterian denomination in the country – with some 1.7 million members across some 10,000+ congregations.  It’s confusing cause I always thought the religion itself – eg. Presbyterianism – was the denomination – but I guess no, the religion itself is a branch (of Protestant Christianity in this case) and the denomination is a religious body within that branch following a certain set structure and doctrine (no wonder there are some many opportunities for people to kill each other over this shit).  Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) is the Presbyterian denomination that recently voted to allow gay marriage – and since they’re the largest denomination in the country that’s a big deal.  But you can’t say that the Presbyterian Church nationwide has now allowed it.  Still they’re a major religious denomination and they allow gay marriage.  That’s pretty cool.  But a bunch of states won’t allow them to express their religious beliefs and marry gay people.  Isn’t that oppression of religious freedom?

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