History of the Manhattan Church of Christ
Nearly 80 years ago-several small groups of Christians of diverse backgrounds but similar religious heritage found each other in the great metropolis of New York and began meeting together in Manhattan. The first meetings of this combined group, which became the Manhattan Church of Christ, took place evidently in Woods Memorial Chapel (237 West 69th Street). This year marks a great anniversary in the long history of the "Restoration Movement" in New York City, a major step that parallels developments in other parts of the country. A consciousness of our history helps us to understand the great gifts that we have received from men and women of faith who have gone before us. It also helps us to understand the origins of many of the issues we continue to wrestle with to this day.
October 10, 1810
190 years ago-the Church of Christ in New York City was first established. A group of recent immigrants, influenced by the views of Robert Sandeman and sometimes called Scotch Baptists, broke away from the Ebenezer Baptist Church and organized a separate congregation. Sandeman was a Scottish reformer who had immigrated to America in 1764 and worked primarily in New England. An early letter from the church describes them as "the Church of Christ at New York, meeting in Sullivan Street." It was signed by the two elders of the congregation, William Ovington and Henry Errett, the father of Isaac Errett, who became one of the most prominent leaders of the Restoration Movement in later years.
Early Events in Restoration History
To get our bearings in time compared to other major events at the beginning of our movement, notice that this New York founding occurred just one year and 33 days after Thomas Campbell, one of the patriarchs of the movement, published his "Declaration and Address," often considered the founding document of the American Restoration Movement. It occurred a year and 11 days after Alexander Campbell, the undisputed leader of the movement before the Civil War, arrived in New York City from Scotland on his way to meet his father Thomas in Pennsylvania. It occurred nine years after the exhilarating Cane Ridge revival in Kentucky set Barton W. Stone firmly on his path toward reform. In the United States, only two congregations of Churches of Christ, congregations dating from the early days of Barton Stone's work (1805 and 1807), can show that they were established before "the Church of Christ at New York." In March of 1818, the church here sent out a circular letter to churches in Europe and America trying
to identify others who shared the restorationist principles that the church in New York followed. They asserted that they strove to follow the New Testament alone as their authority and that their fellowship consisted of those who "believe in their heart, and confess with their mouth, that Jesus is the Christ; that he died for our sins, according to the scriptures; and that upon such confession, and such alone, they should be baptized." The group was very punctilious in its stress on a precise order of worship derived from the New Testament, its rejection of clerical privileges, its practice of weekly communion, its giving to the poor, and various other items. The letter was preserved for later generations because Alexander Campbell republished it several years later in his periodical called The Christian Baptist (5/4).
From 1810 to 1920
Between the founding of the Church of Christ at New York in 1810 and the beginning of the Manhattan Church of Christ in 1920 lies 110 years of the checkered history of our Restoration Movement, a history that has too often been marked by controversies over minor matters and often by division. Though the church in New York was established independently of either the work of the Campbells or of Stone, it soon merged into the movement created by the uniting of these two streams of reform. In 1820 a young man named Walter Scott, who was later to be the most famous evangelist of the early movement, came to New York to visit the congregation of 80 members for three months. He was drawn by a published treatise on baptism written by Henry Errett. The work taught baptism by immersion for the remission of sins and presented an understanding of the design of baptism that Scott and Campbell later followed [reprinted in City Life, May, 1996]. In 1831 Alexander Campbell visited the church in New York and found it troubled by divisions over church order. He labored to bring the divided parties within the church together in unity while at the same time speaking to large audiences of non-Christians and skeptics in the famous Tammany Hall and in Concert Hall. Over the course of the 19th century, the church met in several different locations, gradually moving northward in Manhattan. The first building that the church owned was purchased in 1850 at 70-72 West 17th Street. Campbell’s influence was clear in the fact that the inscription over the door read "Disciples' Meeting House" a designation preferred by Campbell. During the Civil War the church took an active stance in opposition to slavery, and a women’s group called the "Dorcas Society" was active in ministering to wounded soldiers who were returned to the city from the battle front.
Divisions After the Civil War
In spite of its tendencies toward contentiousness and division, the church managed to overcome its faults and remain united till near the end of the 19th century. It was a period when the deep rifts in the fabric of American society caused by the Civil War were finally wreaking havoc in the Restoration movement-transmuted into doctrinal disputes that tended to divide along the Mason-Dixon line between north and south. The church in New York evidently went into a period of some turmoil beginning in about 1895, from which not even a consistent record of the names of ministers of the church survives. There are strong indications of disputes over liberalism and the hiring of more or less liberal ministers, moral standards, ways of collecting money, etc. This is the period when all across the nation the movement was dividing into groups with substantially different emphases-a strongly restorationist side that became the Churches of Christ and a more liberal, ecumenically oriented side that became the Disciples of Christ. This division took place in New York as in other places. Here, as in most other regions of the north, the Disciples side of the division dominated, but the identity of the church continued to be in question until about 1906. As in about 90 per cent of the local divisions that took place across the nation, the Disciples side was able to maintain ownership of the church's real estate, then located on West 56th Street and called the Central Christian Church (later to move to the east side and become the Park Avenue Christian Church). The small groups that broke away from the Disciples group met in homes and rented spaces (including an Odd-Fellows Lodge Hall) until 1920.
In the meantime Christians from the south, connected with the newly independent Churches of Christ (first recognized as a separate group in the 1906 US census) came to New York. One small group met in the apartment of Edna Lovell at 125th and Broadway (just a couple of blocks from where I and my family used to live). George M. McKee and his wife and daughter moved from Georgia to Manhattan and worshipped in their home with a small group including William Boone and his family. Unknown to them was a family living across the Hudson in New Jersey who had immigrated from England in 1906. This large family named Johnson, including parents and three married sons and their wives, had left Birmingham, England where they had been part of the church meeting at Summer Lane at Geach Street (still an active congregation-Jim Petty has preached for them). They established a small church in their home. Eventually, through correspondence and the mediation of E. E. Joynes of Philadelphia, the Johnson group and the
McKee group became known to each other and decided to unite their efforts in a church in Manhattan. Though various sources give the date of their first meeting as July of 1920 or 1921, the 1920 date seems better supported, since it comes from a historian of the Restoration Movement who lived in the metropolitan area in the 1930's: Marvin W. Hastings, Saga of a Movement: Story of the Restoration Movement, 1981.
Soon the fledgling Manhattan Church of Christ incorporated the families from England, those from the south, and the groups that had left the Central Christian Church because of its doctrines. The first minister was named Morgan Carter, and the first two baptized in the group were children from two of the English families.
There is much to explore about the history of the Manhattan Church of Christ, but this narrative is enough for us to see the complexity of our roots. During this millennial year 2000, we celebrate the 80th anniversary of the new beginning that was made in 1920 and that marked the reemergence of the restorationist side of our movement in New York and the beginning of the Manhattan Church of Christ. In October we will also celebrate the 190th anniversary of the original founding of the Church of Christ in New York, a history of which we are heirs along with our friends in the Park Avenue Christian Church. We are heirs of a great tradition and of many people of faith through the ages. Ultimately, of course, neither the date of our 80th anniversary nor our 190th anniversary is of greatest importance. As we celebrate each and every Sunday, the truly great date, the one that gives all the others meaning, is the founding of our faith in Jesus' sacrifice 1,970 years ago-more than 102,000 Sundays ago.
Now there's a number to remember.
Early Highlights of the Manhattan Church Story
Several families that had been meeting separately for worship came together to form a new congregation in Manhattan. The fledgling church met in Wood's Memorial Chapel, 237 West 69th Street. The large Johnson family, originally from Birmingham, England, and the families of William Boone and George McKee from Georgia formed the core of the group. They were soon joined by families that had left the Central Christian Church of the Disciples of Christ. Their first minister was Morgan Carter.
The church moves into new quarters on 58th Street on the edge of the section known as Hell's Kitchen.
The church of about 50 members holds a large evangelistic meeting with G. C. Brewer as preacher. The sessions were attended by 150-200 people each night.
The Congregation moved to 70th Street on the West Side to the George Washington room of the Pythian Temple. The church was allowed to place a sign outdoors only on Sunday morning and could have no phone or other office facilities.
The church began enlisting help from congregations throughout the nation to purchase a place of meeting of their own. The response was good and the building fund grew substantially.
The church divides its building fund in order for several of the founding families of the church to establish a new congregation in Cliffside Park, NJ. This development delayed the purchase of a permanent home for the church in Manhattan.
The congregation ordained their first elders: Granville L. Beasley, Thomas L. Cain Jr., Earl Petty, and George McKee, one of the original founders of the congregation.
The church moved back to the Woods Memorial Chapel, where it had begun. Again the building had no indication of the presence of the church during the week. They could put out a sign only on Sunday mornings.
For reasons unknown, the eldership of the church discontinued. No new eldership was ordained for about 20 years. The congregation continued to have a board of deacons who served as officers of the church throughout the years.
The Hillsboro Church of Christ in Nashville, TN took in hand to aid the work in Manhattan. They made it possible to hire a full-time minister, Homer P. Reeves, and brought him to New York to begin his work in January, 1940.
The congregation aided in establishing a mission church in Harlem.
H. P. Reeves located a suitable property for a permanent location of the congregation, and the A. M. Burton family of Hillsboro made a very large donation toward the purchase of the brick town house at 48 East 80th Street. Without the generosity of the Hillsboro congregation and the Burton family, much of the present history of this congregation could never have developed.
August 3, 1941
The Manhattan Church of Christ began meeting in its new home on the upper east side.
Soon after becoming minister of the Manhattan Church, Burton Coffman appointed Cy Young and Ralph Damp as elders of the congregation. A few months later Stanley Soule was also ordained. An eldership has led church since that time.
The church began an intensive building fund project to build a new facility for its ministries in Manhattan.
The building fund had successfully raised money to pay for the property from 48 East 80th to the corner of Madison Avenue. The Church held a ceremonial mortgage burning.
The World's Fair was held in New York, and the Churches of Christ had an effective display booth at the fair. The work there drew many visitors and inquirers to the church. Lloyd Rutledge came to New York to direct the ministry at the fair and remained in New York as the longest serving elder of the Manhattan church. The Rutledge chapel, used by our Spanish congregation, is named in his honor.
The Congregation moved its worship services to the Campbell Funeral Home on Madison Avenue at 81st Street while the construction of a new building took place. Wednesday evening meetings were held in the rooms of a former French restaurant on the corner of Madison and 80th.
May 19, 1968
The Congregation met for the first time in the new building.
June 30, 1968
Formal dedication of the new building at 48 East 80th Street.
Past Ministers and Elders of the Manhattan Church of Christ
Ministers Through the Years
Morgan Carter 1921-1923
E. E. Shoulders 1923-1925
John Allen Hudson (Assoc.) 1925
T. W. Phillips, II 1926-1929
Walter H. Adams 1930-1932
Walter W. Sikes 1933-1935
Arthur K. Gardner 1936-1938
Perry D. Wilmeth (interim) 1939
M. Norvel Young (interim) 1939
Homer P. Reeves 1940-1943
E. G. (Eddie) Couch Jr. 1943-1949
O. H. Tallman 1950-1954
R. C. Cannon (Assoc.) 1952
Burton Coffman 1954-1971
George M Hill (Assoc.) 1957-1960
James R. Petty (Assoc.) 1960-1966
Marvin Hooper (Assoc.) 1964-1965
Richard F. Daughtry 1971-1975
Keith Mitchell 1975-1983
Alan Phillips (Assoc.) 1979-1984
Pablo Molina (Spanish) 1979-1994
Dan Marshall (Assoc.) 1981-1982
James R. Petty 1985-1996
Frank Buonomo (Assoc.) 1988-1991
Tae Whan Lee (Korean) 1993-1995
Tom Robinson (Assoc.) 1994-1996
Angel Reyes (Spanish) 1994-Present
Thomas Robinson (Senior Minister) 1996-Present
Elders Through the Years
Granville L. Beasley 1933-1935
Thomas L. Cain Jr. 1933-1935
Earl Petty 1933-1935
George McKee 1933-1935
C. B. F. (Cy) Young 1955-1959
Ralph E. Damp 1955-1961
Stanley H. Soule 1956-1965
Wesley M. Johnson 1959-1966
Wilbur H. Davies 1964-1966
Joe C. Nix 1966-1966
Don G. Thoroman 1966-1975
Charles V. Cameron 1966-1971
Lloyd N. Rutledge 1966-1985
Richard F. Daughtry 1971-1975
Truman D. Patterson 1975-1982
Robert Cunningham 1975-1976
Jack L. Rankin 1981-1988
Keith Mitchell 1981-1983
James R. Petty 1985-1996
Fred Metcalf 1988-1994
Doug Poling 1989-1998
Paul Stelzer 1992-Present
Thomas Robinson 1993-Present
John Tesseyman 1998-2003
David Swearingen 2003-2010
Angel Reyes 2003-Present
Lark E. Mason, Jr. 2003-Present