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Church’s last days loom - Wrecking ball casts shadow over 108-year-old sanctuary

Clearly on borrowed time, the Green Church continues to rise above Fourth Avenue, even as the wrecking ball continues to hover overhead.

While the historic building – formally the Bay Ridge United Methodist Church — has stood at Ovington Avenue for 108 years, its days are likely numbered.

The sanctuary, as well as the Sunday School building and the parsonage – the end building in a row of limestone townhouses – are being sold by the congregation to a developer, Abe Betesh of Abeco Realty, for $9.75 million, pending the demolition of the structures.

The city’s Department of Buildings (DOB) last month rejected an initial application to construct a seven-story residential building and small, environmentally friendly church at the site.

The Reverend Robert Emerick, the church’s pastor, had previously asserted that demolition would be done this spring. Asked for an update on the status of that, he acknowledged, “We’re moving along, but we’re moving slowly.” No demolition has yet been scheduled, he said.

Nonetheless, those who want to see the church saved continue to work on its behalf. They have continued to bring in developers who would preserve the church to talk with the congregation.

That, so far, has not produced results. “We haven’t seen a credible alternative yet,” Emerick remarked.

“There are people interested, but it’s very complicated,” noted preservationist Victoria Hofmo, the founder of the Bay Ridge Conservancy and a member of the committee.

Most recently, activists delivered petitions in favor of the church’s preservation containing approximately 1,200 names to State Senator Marty Golden, who has held back from supporting the preservation efforts, but whom they are hoping to get on their side.

The Committee to Save the Bay Ridge United Methodist Church kicked off the effort in June, delivering approximately 100 petitions to Golden’s Fifth Avenue office at that time.

Why take that route? “Marty Golden said at some point that he hadn’t really heard from the public,” said Hofmo.

City Councilmember Vincent Gentile and Assemblymember Janele Hyer-Spencer have both come down in support of finding a workable solution that would preserve the sanctuary while still providing the congregation with the financial support necessary for them to pursue their mission.

“Until the Green Church is demolished, I maintain hope that it can be saved,” Gentile told this paper. “For the last year, I’ve worked to broker an arrangement between the church’s congregation and another buyer that would guarantee the safety of the building. About 1,300 people have petitioned to save the building – that number of people can’t be ignored, and should not be ignored.”

However, Golden clearly isn’t convinced. John Quaglione, his spokesperson, said that the senator, “Understands the importance and history of the Bay Ridge United Methodist Church. It is important that we refer it to as the Bay Ridge United Methodist Church, and not simply the Green Church. Knowing that under the leadership of Pastor Emerick and the parishioners, the faith that has been part of Bay Ridge will live on, Senator Golden continues to respect the desires of the congregation and leadership as to the future of the church building.

“There is no denying the magnificence of the church and the important contributions of the past and present pastors and parishioners,” Quaglione went on. “The signatures are important in that it shows community support. But even with the petition, we still must ask where will the money come from to make the repairs and to keep the church operational? All interested parties should continue to look for a financial miracle to save this church. That is what it will take.”

The congregation initially decided to sell the church because of the cost of maintaining the church, which they said was in poor condition. However, this assessment has been challenged by local activists who contend that, while facing stone has been falling off, there is nothing to show that the underlying structure is dilapidated and that, in fact, it has survived not only the constant barrage of train traffic underground but also last year’s tornado.

The church is on the state and national Registers of Historic Places.

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