Apr 23, 2015

The Old Churchbell Falls Silent --

I learned this morning that the church that has figured most strongly in my family history, Christ Evangelical Lutheran of Ozone Park, New York, will be closing its doors as of May 24th.  The church has been struggling for a few years now, and they have decided to combine its small congregation with two others, in the hope of creating a church that will be reinvigorated and will thrive.



This article from a local paper explains the story.  But I stopped at one sentence and wondered, is this really true?  Rev. Herbst from the New York Synod said this:

        But Herbst said the physical building has very little impact on the faith of a congregation.
        "It's not about the building, it's about how we're serving the community," he said.

In one sense, I guess he's right -- that whether services are held in a historic building or in a storefront wouldn't affect the faith of the people who attend.  But in another way, it is about the building, when so much of your family's history is so tied up in that particular structure, that particular place. Besides attending the regular services, the Ortmans and Berneburgs had many significant events take place in that sanctuary:

     1895:  The baptism of my grandmother, Mary Siegler
     1921:  The wedding of my grandmother,  Mary Siegler, and my grandfather, William J. Ortman
     1925:  The baptism of my father, William J. Ortman, Jr.
     c. 1937:  The confirmations of my mother, Waltraud Berneburg, and my father, William J.                              Ortman.
     1949:  The wedding of my mother, Waltraud Berneburg, and father, William J. Ortman, Jr.
     1950:  My baptism, on October 1st.

Besides this, I'm sure there were numerous funerals, both my grandfathers, my grandmother Mae Ortman, my great-grandfather and great-grandmother, George and Tilly Siegler.  My great-aunt, Dorothy Siegler, married Ernest Meyer, whose father, Dr. Hugo E. Meyer, was the minister of the church; Ernest Meyer took over the ministry when his father retired and then presided over all of the family events listed above.

        The interior of the old church

I think I'm feeling a kind of mourning today -- when an iconic place like Christ Lutheran disappears, it leaves a tangible hole in your heart.  I can't help think about how we all must pass from this earthly plane, people and buildings and gravestones and written records, wedding dresses and pocket watches, diaries and letters, eventually everything that says "I existed.  I was here."  It's inevitable.  We must make our peace with it.  But today, that doesn't feel easy.


I wrote an earlier post about Christ Lutheran here.

2 comments:

  1. Since I've been wandering around Ozone Park lately, myself--well, digitally speaking, that is--your post caught my eye. It is a shame when a treasure from our heritage ceases to hold meaning for those still nearby. You mentioned that two or three congregations will be merging. But what will happen to the building?

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  2. Thanks, Jacqi -- you've been wandering around Ozone Park? I didn't know we had ancestors in the same place. Mine have been in Queens since the mid-1850's.

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