Sunday, September 18, 2011

Small Churches - part 1

  For those in the know, this blog's Staten Island focus started with big ideas regarding something I called "the Church Project".  I was going to document and get photos and histories for all the older churches on the North Shore.  Never happened.  Still, it's something that lurks in the back of my head and surfaces from time to time.  Here's something I'm calling "Small Churches - part 1".

   Not far from my house are two little churches, one with an interesting cultural history and the other with an interesting congregational history.  

Bethel Temple Church
  I knew that Jersey Street once had Italians, Chinese, Jews and Germans.  I didn't know it also Norwegians.  This little church on Hendricks Avenue right off of Jersey Street was, according to Leng and Davis, originally the St. Olaf Norwegian Church.  Who knew?

Bethel Community Church
  This small church, located near the end of Van Duzer Street where it meets Bay Street, is only from 1940 or so but had a significantly longer history.  This past spring they celebrated their 115th anniversary and had their stretch of the street named in honor of Bishop C. Asapansa Johnson.

  According to "Holden's Staten Island", the congregation was founded in 1896 on Targee Street, incorporated as the Bethel African American Methodist Church in 1909 and in 1917 was located at 110 Van Duzer Street.  In 1940 the congregation built and dedicated the present building, also on Van Duzer Street.

   In the 40s the church became independent from the denomination under the leadership of its pastor, Rev. Coma Asapansa Johnson.  I've learned a little about him and he appears and interesting figure.
   He came to the US from Sierra Leone and was the first black chaplain in the FDNY.  I also know my sister's 8th grade teacher at the late Trinity Lutheran School was named after him.

   Someday I'd love to see history of all the strands of African-American history on the Island.  One can only hope.

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