The Synod of Bishops Russian Church is the base for the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia (ROCOR) in New York City. ROCOR, which was formed in response to the policies of the Bolsheviks in the early twentieth century, was a separate religious entity from the Russian Orthodox Church for ninety years. In 2007, however, the Act of Canonical Communion with the Moscow Patriarchate was signed, making ROCOR a semi-autonomous part of the Russian Orthodox Church. The administrative building on 93rd Street contains two churches within its structure: The Cathedral of the Icon of Our Lady of the Sign and St. Sergius Church. The building was presented to ROCOR in the mid-twentieth century by Serge Semenenko, a Russian banker. The mansion was built by the architect William A. Delano in the Georgian-Federal style in 1918.
Initially serving as a resting stop for Scandinavian sailors when they disembarked in lower Manhattan, the Swedish Seaman's Church opened its doors on Water Street in 1873. The neo-Gothic building in which the Church currently resides was constructed in 1921 for "The Bible House" before being sold to the Church of Sweden in 1978. The Church's nautical past is evidenced in the model boats placed among the large collection of Swedish books. With a chapel, a library, and a coffee shop, the Church's doors are always open to Swedes. While tasting their delicious Swedish buns, I chatted with the staff who spoke enthusiastically about the function that the center plays in people's lives. For families, it provides a "wind" of Sweden whenever they miss their homeland. There are also multiple weddings conducted in the chapel each week, and people come from all over to celebrate holidays and shop at their Christmas Bazaar.
My visit to the Church of Our Lady of Good Counsel came only a year after it merged with the Church of St. Thomas More in 2015. Though the two buildings remain open, the Church of Our Lady of Good Counsel is considered the parish church. The reasons for the merger were spiritual, financial, and community-based. It is the hope of the combined parishes that they continue to grow stronger under one pastor. As for the history of the Our Lady of Good Counsel, the church had its beginnings in 1886 and moved into its current home in 1892. Though its origins were Irish and German, the Roman Catholic Church now embraces a diverse community and offers Spanish masses every week. Louisa, a member of the staff, led me into the beautifully ornate sanctuary. The altar was decorated with cherry blossoms for springtime, an attractive addition to the stained glass and marble. The vast, two-tiered space is blindingly colorful and features an enormous working organ. Music, Louisa informed me, plays a central role in the congregation. Louisa spoke to me about an event called Catholic Underground that happens on the first Saturday of every month from September through May. Hundreds of people, often young people in their teens or twenties, fill the sanctuary for an hour of “Eucharistic adoration. ” After the ceremony, everyone goes downstairs to the lower church where singers, bands, or individual musicians play. The musical groups come from around the world. As Louisa explained, the event began as a way of “bringing culture to the people. ” This did not originate in the Church of Our Lady of Good Counsel, but has taken place there since the early 2000s. Though everyone is invited to attend, Catholic Underground’s primary goal is to connect with young people in the community... and it appears to be working nicely.
The Church of Saint Thomas More has only been known by that name since 1950. However, the church that it resides in is much older. The religious structure on 89th Street was built in 1870 using sandstone from Nova Scotia. It was inhabited by the Episcopalians and a Dutch Reformed congregation before it became a Roman Catholic church and was rededicated to Saint Thomas More. In the summer of 2015, the parish merged with Our Lady of Good Counsel on 90th Street.
This Swedish Lutheran church is celebrating its 150th anniversary in 2015. The church, organized by two missionaries, was named for Gustavus II Adolphus, who was King of Sweden from 1611-1632. Though the church opened in 1865, it was not until the early 1900s that English services began on a regular basis and electricity was installed in the building. The membership fluctuated over the years that followed, as the church introduced attractions such as the Sewing Club, Help Our Neighbors Eat Year-Round, and the Basement Coffeehouse Program for college students and young adults. In 1961, the church had the honor of hosting a memorial service for the Secretary General of the United Nations, Dag Hammarskjöld. In celebration of this milestone anniversary, Gustavus Adolphus is renovating its interior, and replacing the chandeliers and stained glass windows in preparation for a festival in the fall of 2015.
Though the congregation was established in 1895, the golden yellow building, designed in the Hungarian vernacular architectural style by Emery Roth, was not completed until 1916. The church is now the oldest in the neighborhood and still holds services in Hungarian every Sunday.
The Ukrainian Orthodox Cathedral is led by a man who shares a name with the church’s own saint: Volodymyr. Pastor Volodymyr Muzychka greeted us at the door to the church, tucked underneath the façade’s wide balcony, dressed in religious robes that gave him an air of beneficence. Despite the language barrier, the pastor could not have been more charming as he led us through the halls of this magnificent church. Volodymyr came to New York from the Ukraine in 2011 and lives within the walls of the cathedral with his family. He told us that he only allows the heat to be on during the winter months for a half an hour in the morning and again at night, despite the frigid temperatures. Smiling, he said that he likes it this way. Since there were no services on the day that we visited, the cathedral building was cool, dark, and serene. We first stopped in to look at a large party room. The hallway leading to it was lined with portraits of influential religious Ukrainian figures. Next, Volodymyr took us up to the sanctuary in an elevator dating back to 1937. The smell of incense greeted us as we stepped into the sanctuary, lined with stained glass. Volodymyr explained that the building was first constructed in 1894-96 to be a synagogue by noted New York architect Arnold W. Brunner and became a church in 1958. We walked up the stairs to the choir loft, which gave an even grander view of the space. I have met many warm and fascinating leaders of both churches and synagogues over the past several years walking on the side streets of Manhattan. Pastor Muzychka touched my heart in a way that no other has, thus far.
An oasis in a concrete cityscape, this little church doubles as a place of worship and a serene garden in which to rest. The Episcopalian church was founded in 1848 by George Houghton to welcome any and all of the tired masses, in the spirit of inclusivity. Today, the church maintains that inclusive spirit by keeping its gates open all day to parishioners and non-parishioners alike. On any given day, one can find anyone from actors to businessmen seated among the bushes and fountains, chatting, eating or simply sitting in peace. “A lot of people just come in and meditate or chill, ” parish administrator Bill Nave shared with us. “It is one of the most welcoming churches I have ever been to. ” What a charming discovery in the midst of bustling Manhattan.
Calvary-St George’s church moved to Gramercy Park in 1832. It has a strong history of influential members and it was here that Edith Wharton’s The Age of Innocence was set. In addition to movie nights and summer programs for children, we witnessed a small, delightful concert performance along the sidewalk while walking one day.