This is the story of two churches that share history, heritage and a church building. The first is All Saints Episcopal Church on 96th Street and 86th Avenue in Woodhaven, which is celebrating a major milestone this month, its 125th Anniversary.
All Saints came to Woodhaven from Richmond Hill, where they held their first service on Sunday, November 26th, 1897. The small group of worshippers that gathered that day could never have guessed where their wee gathering would lead.
Within a few years, All Saints would lay a cornerstone on a few lots they purchased on Lefferts Boulevard and on All Saints Day in 1900, appropriately enough, they celebrated their first mass in their new building.
In those early days in Richmond Hill, All Saints was surrounded by untamed woods and farmland. Over the next century, as the area around them changed dramatically, All Saints remained steadfast to its commitment to serving the community.
The other church in this story is St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church, which was organized in 1901 as a mission of the Church of the Resurrection in Richmond Hill, to accommodate the growing population of the Brooklyn Manor section of Woodhaven.
St. Matthew’s started in a storefront on Jamaica Avenue near 91st Street but soon a lot was purchased on Willard Avenue (now 96th Street). St. Matthew’s first service in their newly built wooden church was held on the Feast of the Epiphany, January 6, 1901, and because of the flowers that populated the field it was built upon, it took the nickname “The Church in the Daisy Fields.”
Both churches flourished through the 20th century, not only serving their communities but becoming important and valued parts of their respective neighborhoods. Countless weddings, christenings, baptisms and funerals were held in both churches, touching the lives of tens of thousands of families in Richmond Hill and Woodhaven.
However, both churches found themselves in difficult positions as the 2010s came to a close. St. Matthew’s membership had been rapidly declining and the diocese made the difficult decision to close the church which had served Woodhaven for 111 years.
On Sunday May 22, 2011, a deconsecration mass, performed by Bishop Lawrence Provenzano of the Long Island Episcopal Diocese, was held. To the community of Woodhaven it appeared that the beautiful English gothic-style church on 96th Street was gone for good.
Meanwhile, All Saints Episcopal in Richmond Hill was surviving, but in a building that was no longer suited for long-term use. The Long Island Episcopal Diocese then made a decision that changed the history of two of its churches.
All Saints Episcopal was relocated from Richmond Hill to Woodhaven and the diocese installed the Rev. Dr. Norman Whitmire, Jr. to guide this change in July 2013. Fr. Whitmire has worked hard since then to build connections and relationships with the Woodhaven community.
Under his stewardship, All Saints Woodhaven has thrived. They have offered services in English and Spanish, undergone a major renovation and started a Senior Lunch Program (on the 3rd Saturday of every month).
All Saints streams all High Masses, weekday masses, and various other services over the internet and upholds its commitment as a friendly, inclusive, and diverse parish where all are warmly welcome.
What could have been a disaster for two churches was averted, and a stronger more modern church has evolved.
All Saints Woodhaven will cap off a week of celebratory events this Friday, November 4th at 7:30 pm with a formal dinner and dance that will take place in the recently renovated and handicapped accessible parish hall (with a brand new elevator) overlooking the historic Wyckoff-Snedeker cemetery.
For more information about All Saints Woodhaven visit them online or call them at 718-849-2352 for more information.