First Parish Church in Northville has been “rebirthed,” according to its pastor, Dianne Rodriguez.
Faced with a declining congregation and exigent financial circumstances, the UCC church was in danger of closing its door for good.
But right after Easter Sunday, First Parish UCC will begin a new life, Rodriguez said.
First Parish Church has leased its 108-year-old church building, located on the corner of Church Lane and Sound Avenue, to the Community Baptist Church.
The UCC congregation will move across the road, into the building known as Grange Hall, which the parish also owns, Rodriguez said. Its worship services will be held in the second-floor sanctuary of the hall, except for holy days, when they will take place in the church building.
Joshua Fryman, pastor of Community Baptist Church, whose congregation has been meeting for Sunday worship inside Grace Episcopal Church on Roanoke Avenue, said he is delighted his church has found a permanent home in Riverhead.
Fryman’s congregation is a little more than two years old, he said. They worshipped for a time in Polish Hall, then moved into the building across from Polish Hall on Marcy Avenue, prior to moving their two Sunday services to the Episcopal church.
“We’re very excited to be able to have a building like that,” Fryman said in an interview this week. “As a pastor you want to see churches maintain their use and to find a beautiful church building that needed a congregation is such a blessing,” he said.
Community Baptist Church is an independent congregation, unaffiliated with any convention or diocese, Fryman said.
“I was sent out of the Long Island Baptist Church in Holtsville,” said Fryman, originally from Ohio and a Long Island resident for about 10 years.
“We’re in fellowship with the Community Baptist Church,” Rodriguez said. “And for us, it’s a new start.”
All of the ministries operated out of Grange Hall, such as sheltering the homeless through the Maureen’s Haven outreach program and hosting AA meetings, will continue there, Rodriguez said.
This isn’t the first “rebirth” for First Parish, nor is it the first time the church used the hall for worship services.
The original church building* on the corner of Sound Avenue and Church Lane burned down in May 1877 and a new church was built in its place, opening in 1880, according to local historian Judge Thomas Stark. The hall was temporarily used for services during the reconstruction. The steeple of that church was struck by lightning on July 23, 1901, touching off a fire that destroyed the building. Again, services moved to the hall across Sound Avenue, until construction was completed on the new church in 1904.
Up until 1972, the church was known as the Sound Avenue Congregational Church.
The Sound Avenue, Aquebogue and Jamesport Congregational churches had been brought together for worship, using the three buildings in rotation, under the leadership of the Rev. Paul Rishell, who had arrived in Riverhead at a time when all three congregations were without ministers, according to an article written by Dr. Caryl R. Granttham in 1976.
“In 1972, the Tri-Parish experiment ended and the Aquebogue church [now known as Old Steeple] decided to go it alone,” Granttham wrote. The two remaining congregations at Jamesport and Sound Avenue decided to merge and First Parish Church was born.
First Parish for a time rented out the Jamesport church building, which dates back to 1731, to the House of Praise and then to the North Fork Unitarian Universalist Church. It was sold to the Jamesport Meeting House Preservation Trust in 2008.
Photo captions, from top: (1) Worship service at the First Parish Church yesterday; (2) Pastor Joshua Fryman chats with members of his congregation after one of two worship services Community Baptist Church currently holds in rented space at Grace Episcopal Church on Roanoke Avenue; (3) Pastor Joshua Fryman; (4) exterior of First Parish Church yesterday.
RiverheadLOCAL photos by Peter Blasl
* Granttham dates the original Sound Avenue church building to the early 1830s (“The First Parish Church UCC,” in The Religious Growth of the Riverhead Area: A Chronology, 1633-1975 and Histories, 1976) while Stark puts the date of its construction at 1860 (Riverhead: The Halcyon Years 1861-1919)
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