Commissioners of the Town of Hempstead’s Landmarks Commission voted 5-0, with one abstention, to recommend to the Hempstead Town Board that the St. Matthias Episcopal Church at 2856 Jerusalem Avenue at the corner of Oakfield Avenue be landmarked for its cultural and historical significance to the community. Commissioner Josh Soren abstained, as he was the one who formally filed the application for landmark status.
The vote came after Rev. Andrew Durbridge of the Episcopal Diocese of Long Island articulated a defense against landmarking the church. Rev. Durbridge, who asked to speak last after several of the 27 who attended the hearing spoke on behalf of landmarking the structure, told the commissioners that he is in charge of the real estate of 135 churches within the diocese in Brooklyn, Nassau, Queens and Suffolk. A church is not solely defined by the building it is in, he first told the commissioners, “It’s the worshipping congregation and community within the church that makes it a viable church.”
He said that since the 1960s the St. Matthias congregation has struggled to maintain a consistent 25 congregants, a criterion of the diocese to make the congregation viable to maintain the thrust of the church through spiritual and community activities. He said that the Rev. Lawton Bryant is not an ordained Episcopal minister, and therefore his congregation was not a viable Episcopal congregation.
He also challenged the historical underpinnings of the 114 year-old church, saying it was the second such church in the community of its kind for worshippers during that time, and not the original one.
He added that the diocese attempted to consolidate the congregation with the congregation of St. Mark’s Evangelist Episcopal Church on Bellmore Avenue, referring to the recent consolidation of Christ the King Episcopal Church in East Meadow with St. Marks, and changing the congregation’s name to St. Francis. He said the St. Matthias congregation resisted the consolidation.
While the diocese has sold eight churches in recent years, he maintained the revenues generated are put in trust and go toward other church properties to promote charitable events and activities within the communities it serves. “We would hope to sell the property to another church,” he said.
He concluded to the commissioners that landmarking the church would diminish the ability of the diocese to carry out its ministries, and asked them to provide the Commission’s standards for landmarking the property, should the commissioners choose to landmark it.
After the Rev. Durbridge wrapped up his remarks, the commissioners quickly proceeded to explain to the 27 attendees at the meeting the purpose of the Commission and the current meeting. Commissioner William Muller said the Commission’s purpose is to “look at the significance of a structure to the community as well as its cultural significance,” and whether that structure “fits into the historical criteria of being protected.”
Interim Landmarks Commissioner Paul D. Van Wie then read aloud three criteria to which the Commission adhers to: The architectural value of the structure; the historical value; and the cultural value.
He said there has to be some significance to the design of the structure that makes it meaningful, that historical value does not mean it needs to be an old structure, and that the structure has a “unique” chemistry and significance within the community.
The Commissioners then voted 5-0 to recommend landmark status of St. Matthias Church to the Hempstead Town Board, for further discussion and clarification with the town board at a meeting in the future.