The Community Presbyterian Church of Merrick was founded on May 8, 1929. It was the eighteenth church to open its doors to worshippers in Nassau County.
One of the Trustees first orders of business was to purchase 100 sets of pledge cards and leaflets. The church’s first stewardship drive was under way, and by June 4, 1929, the Board of Trustees reported a balance of $202.28 in the account. A $2,000 loan was obtained from the Church Extension Board.
The first services were held in the Empire Fire Hall. Driven by faith and commitment, the Trustees commenced a building fund drive for $25,000 at a time when the country was in a deep depression. Soon appropriate land on William Place was selected, a private mortgage was obtained from a member of the congregation, pledges poured in, and building commenced. The construction phase was not always smooth. A lien of $300 was placed on the church by a lumber company for failure to pay the bills promptly. There were also problems with the heating system as well as leaks in the tower and chancel corridor. But in four months the construction was completed and 49 members celebrated the dedication on November 29, 1931.
At times during the first few years the budget was overspent. In 1932, the Merrick church used some of the money that had been specifically earmarked for the Benevolent and Mission Fund to cover current church expenses instead. The Brooklyn-Nassau Presbytery issued a strong warning, which the church took very seriously, and even during periods of severe financial hardship since that time, the pledge to Benevolence/Mission always came first.
In 1935, the church’s proposed budget was $5,528.09, most to be raised by pledges from membership, but in truth it was the ladies of the Women’s League who kept the church afloat for many of these difficult years. And so it continued through the Depression, the church holding its own as the focal point for many Merrick families. With the refinancing of debt and provision for future liquidation of it, the church was becoming more financially viable. The improved financial outlook was indeed timely.
When the war was over, many families relocated from the city to Long Island. Many returning service men and women were married soon after discharge, and most of them hastened to start families. Church membership soared higher than ever before.
A renovation of the church building was undertaken in 1954, but on January 12, 1955, a fire gutted the church hall and basement, causing extensive damage in the amount of $43,000. Services were held in the Reformed Jewish Synagogue during the six-month rebuilding. Three years later, however, expansion became a necessity. In 1955, church membership had climbed to 573. A survey was made to determine what additional facilities would be needed. The result was the addition of a new annex building, completed in 1961 that included eight classrooms, a convenient restroom, and generous storage facilities. In addition to using the space for Sunday School, the church began renting it to the Merrick School District on weekdays for much-needed classroom space. The church’s membership continued to grow, reaching over 600 in its peak year of 1965.
Many of the Merrick young people who were unaffiliated with a church joined the Youth Group, participated in services, weekend retreats, basketball or volleyball tournaments, and worked in the church kitchen. The Women’s League, The Couples Club, and various church committees held dances, parties, and covered dish dinners. Social concerns were frequently addressed, and missionary work was supported throughout the world. Families contributed food, books, clothing and bedding for missions within the United States and raised money for foreign missions.
Throughout the years the church building has been made available to many community organizations, including Scouts, Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, the Homemakers Club, a senior citizens club, the Greek Orthodox Church, the Board of Elections, Little Village School, a school for young children with handicaps, the Merokee Day School, and the Roosevelt Presbyterian Sunday School. In all of this, there continues to be a strong commitment to serving the community as we live up to our name and our faith, following in Christ’s footsteps.
The period of the late 1960s into the early 1970s was a high watermark in terms of membership figures. It was also a period of greater stability, with the longer term pastorate of The Reverend Larry Ainsworth.
But in time, membership began to decline as demographics in Merrick changed. And when the Rev. Ainsworth moved on in 1974, a new period of change and uncertainty was created for the congregation.
In 1975, we selected Rev. Gary Haase to become our Pastor. Pastor Haase then led us through the next five years as we continued the trend toward a smaller, but in some ways stronger, congregation.
Following the arrival of Rev. Thomas Philipp in the early 1980s, renewed stability was achieved. Rev. Philipp applied new energy and initiative as the church continued to re-envision itself in the form of a smaller congregation. New programs formed, including the Peace Essay Contest – an annual outreach effort to the local schools, as well as the annual Lenten Program, a joining together of a number of Protestant churches in the Merricks and Bellmores. A number of the congregation became regularly active in the Inn, the Interfaith Nutrition Network, working in local soup kitchens on a regular basis, and walking in the annual Good Friday Walk Against Hunger.
And while the church was now too small for formal youth programs, smaller activities, including trips into NY City, the Bethpage Village Restoration, and the Holmes Presbyterian Camp, were held in order to enrich the fellowship.
Over the next 25 years, Pastor Philipp led an active, if small, congregation in their outreach efforts to the community at large. During this time, the church celebrated anniversaries for 50, 60, and finally 75 years, the latter anniversary in 2004 being a gala event at the Coral House in Baldwin.
And in 2006, we returned to Coral House, to celebrate Rev. Philipp’s retirement. The gathering was well attended by members, friends, and local dignitaries.
Over the next five years, we were blessed by the leadership of our Interim Pastor, the Reverend Nancy S. Jennings. Pastor Nancy proved to be an Interim/part-time, pastor in name only. With great enthusiasm and vibrancy, she navigated our congregation through the difficult period of transition from a pastorate of over 25 years to that of new beginnings. Thank you, Pastor Nancy.
And in September, 2013, we welcomed our new Pastor, the Reverend Dennis Carter, to our fellowship. These are exciting times at our church, as we begin to write a new chapter in our history under the leadership of Pastor Dennis.
Yet, more changes were in store for us. In 2016, and for the next nearly three years, we were most ably served by the Reverends Ralph Wright and Joan Fink. They each were much more than pulpit supply, and became very involved in the life of our congregation as we looked for a “Way Forward” for our congregation.
And so, with the arrival of 2018, we agreed to share a new pastor, the Reverend Moira Ahearne, with the First Presbyterian Church of Freeport. We look to partner more with our sister (yet separate, congregation), in fellowship, worship, and service.
Now, after over 90 years, we look forward to a future as the “Small Church with a Big Heart,” neither too large – and hopefully – nor too small, where we continue to worship God and to perform His work.
All are welcome!
J. Canfield Van Doren 1928 — 1937
Allan R. Winn 1937 — 1940
Elwood T. Dyson 1941 — 1943
Arthur R. McKay 1944 — 1947
George H. Winn, Jr. 1947 — 1950
Lee Vaughn Barker 1950 — 1961
J. Lawrence Ainsworth 1961 — 1974
Gary C. Haase 1975 — 1980
Thomas J. Philipp 1982 — 2006
Nancy S. Jennings (Interim) 2006 — 2012
Dennis Carter 2013 — 2016
Ralph Wright, Jr. (Supply) 2016 — 2017
Joan Finck 2017 — 2018
Moira Ahearne 2018 — Present