The History of Community United Methodist Church.
Community Church is a bridge in a diverse community. Many churches in Queens have closed even as our community needs a healing word from Christ. Pressures built, in the neighborhoods, as new languages, customs, business, and ever increasing numbers of people arrived. The World’s Fair of 1964 introduced the sixty ethnic communities of Jackson Heights. In the years since, the Borough of Queens has become the most diverse ethnically in the nation. Community United Methodist Church of Jackson Heights decided to be and build a new multi-language congregation. The largely European congregation decided to change as Jackson Heights changed.
In 1916, the emerging community of Jackson Heights realized that plans for the worship of God were required. The first worship services were at the Southwest corner of Polk Avenue and 25th Street (now Capital One Bank at 37th Avenue and 82nd Street). Officers were elected on November 27, 1916 and charter members received on March 4th, 1917. 74 Charter members were received. After two years, the services went to a larger room farther east on Polk Avenue. In 1919, Queensboro Corporation offered a tract of land to the denomination that would be a partner and the City Society of the Methodist Episcopal Church accepted the invitation and donated $40,000. The land was donated and ground breaking occurred on July 11, 1920. The cornerstone was laid on September 24, 1922 and the building on 81st Street was dedicated June 10, 1923. In war and in peace, worship has since hallowed this ground.
Methodism flourished in it’s new environment. By 1942, 2000 persons arrived for Easter worship. Three services were held every Sunday and 900 children participated in Sunday School. Space was in short supply. In 1954, Dr. Karl Moore led the congregation to build the many rooms of the 82nd Street building. They house the Religious and Weekday education programs that are our hallmark fifty years later. Almost 2,000 children have received their early childhood education at Community Church. Another 1,500 children have gotten a head start on the next grade through Summer School.
The largely European-American attendance of the church peaked in 1962 and then followed many other churches of New York City with a long period of decline. Most churches died when neighborhoods changed. Rev. Austin Armitstead emphasized how the church must always reflect the peoples of the community. The emphasis on “community” saved the Community United Methodist Church. We determined to look like the neighborhood and growth returned — in the English ministry and new ones emerging! 1995 through 2009 saw continued growth and change for the English ministry with Dr. Ronald D. Tompkins as pastor, and his liberal passion on justice issues and conservative passion on theology. Beginning in 2010 the English ministry has continued to reach out in Jackson Heights under the leadership of Pastor Delois Davis.
Chinese Ministry Starts
By the blessings of God, on August 3, 1975, Rev. Solomon Kao started the Chinese Ministry in the Jackson Heights United Methodist Church. There were 15 people at the service. With four years’ cultivation, the Chinese ministry grew and 30 people attended on Sunday. After Rev. Kao left for continuing education on June 22, 1980, Rev. Chuang-Ching Peng continued the ministry. Unfortunately, in the next five years, Chinese ministry stagnated because of changing several pastors.
Rev. Paul Hsieh arrived in 1984 and the Chinese ministry rejuvenated. In the next three and half years (84’-87’), Chinese ministry had reached average 45 people attending on Sunday service and formed core-member meeting to develop Chinese ministry. Before Easter of 1987, Rev. Solomon Kao continued Rev. Paul Hsieh’s mission, and retired in June of 1995. Rev. David Peng came to the church in 1995 as the first full time pastor in Chinese ministry. In August of 1998, because of the need to reach more people and the growth (average 75 people attending Sunday service) Chinese ministry moved from room 5 to the bigger social room. The Rev John Chung continues this ministry here at Community UMC. May God bless our church to lead more Chinese non-believers to become God’s people.
Spanish Ministry Starts
The first Spanish services at Community United Methodist Church were in 1985 in Room 2 under the leadership of Rev. Noe Torres. This church opened its doors to Spanish immigrants . Rev. Juan Sosa was appointed in 1986. Ever since that time, the congregation has served in different ways by offering a house of worship and many social services. Rev. Cotto-Thorner was appointed in 1989 and the congregation has grown, first filling Room 7 and now the upstairs sanctuary. At the present time, we have members representing most of the countries in Central and South America and the Islands of the Caribbean. Through our outreach, Spanish families are sixty percent of the PreK attendance. The Rev Jose Mora-Gil continues to build this important and growing New York City congregation.
Services started in 1989 to meet the spiritual needs of Korean people in the Jackson Heights area. As the ministry grew, the church faced the difficulty of limited space for worship services on Sunday morning. After obtaining permission from the District Superintendent of the Metropolitan South District of the UMC, this group left the church and became an independent church. Upon leaving, Korean people in the Bayside Korean UMC moved into this church in July 1995, but they later moved out in the fall of 2002 ending the thirteen year Korean ministry at this location.
Change and Transition
As different services started, rooms around the buildings were consecrated by prayers and hymns. And then we grew. Room after room was used — # 2, # 5, #7, the Social Room and Chapel. Change and transition are always awkward. In the early days of this grand experiment in Christian unity, everyone felt like a stranger. Many arrangements were tested to get the best possible fit. Both in spiritual life and in the administration of the church, the pastors covenant now to lead the church in fairness, in friendship, and in unity.