Elmendorf Reformed Church: Our History
"The Oldest Church in Harlem"
The history of the Elmendorf Reformed Church, formerly known as the Low Dutch Church of Harlem, the "First Church of Haarlem", also the Collegiate Church of Harlem, is also the history of the Village of Haarlem.
In 1658 Governor Peter Stuyvesant made plans for a second village on Manhattan Island. Slaves were ordered to construct a road from Greenwich Village to northern Manhattan where a forming community would be built. It was considered a dangerous outpost which was potentially vulnerable to Native American Indian or English attack. According to the few records of its early years, al of the first settlers were either killed by the Indians or forced to flee to the southern part of Manhattan.
The Dutch decided that the only way to establish a permanent settlement was with the direct aid of the government. The Director General [Governor] and the council of the New Netherlands gave notice that those who decided to cultivate the northern section of Manhattan would be granted "certain privileges". One of those privileges was that as soon as the new village had 25 settlers, a minister would be assigned to them.
The settlers chose an inspiring name for their frontier community: Haarlem, after a Dutch town which had long suffered during Spain's war against Holland in the late 16th century. Haarlem and its citizens were renowned for their valiant strength, their perseverance and their ability to survive through difficult and painful times.
Having fulfilled the requirement, the Reformed Low Dutch Church of Haarlem was organized under a Royal Charter granted August 1660. Haarlem then received its Charter as a Village on August 15, 1660.
It wasn't until the winter of 1665, however, that the congregation began the erection of its first church building, at what is now the corner of First Avenue and 127th Street. About a quarter of an acre connected with the original church afterwards became known as the "Negro Burying ground".
There were six different buildings erected for worship from our beginning until now. During the Revolutionary War, the second church edifice, which was erected in 1686, was destroyed. Only one relic remains; it is the venerable bell which was cast in Amsterdam, Holland, expressly for the Harlem Church in the year 1734. It remains on display in the rear of the sanctuary, the archive area of the church.
After the English took over New Amsterdam its name was changed to New York and the Village of Haarlem, had one "a" removed from its name, to be known as Harlem.
When this country became independent in 1776 the denomination also broke away from the old world structure and became the Reformed Church in America. Our church made that transition with the country and with the rest of the denomination
In 1810, according the laws of the State of New York, the church became incorporated as Minister, Elders, and Deacons of the Reformed Low Dutch Church of Harlem. The name "Elmendorf" comes from Dr. Joachim Elmendorf who served the church for 22 years as a dedicated and loving Pastor, towards the end of the 19th century.
From about 1950 to 1957, when the community began to rapidly change from Caucasians to African American and Hispanic, the General Synod wrestled with whether it should close the church or integrate it. They preferred to integrate and close the church only as a last resort.
The church remained and became integrated. A young minister the Rev. Donald DeYoung became the Pastor. Under his leadership an all out effort was made to minister to the total community. New programs were instituted reflecting the needs of the parish. Thus, instead of being a Dutch church, it became known as a "Protestant parish for All People" reaching out in every direction regardless of race and ethnicity. Under his leadership the Elmendorf Opportunity Center, an after school mentoring and homework help program was birthed.
By the Mid-1970's sociological and economical realities began to impact on the church's ministry. The community again began to undergo rapid change and decline of social services, limited housing, and other needed amenities forced man of the members to move from the community. The Rev. DeYoung terminated his ministry at Elmendorf at the end of 1975. The church was faced with redesigning its ministry in light of these new changes and challenges.
The Rev. Raphael Johnson was installed as the first African American pastor in the spring of 1978. These may best be described as the discovery years as the church struggled to find its own identity. With the church no longer a mission project it was faced with challenges and possibilities, with potentials and limitations. There were days of struggle and difficulties but also of triumphs and celebrations. Rev. Johnson terminated his ministry on April 3rd, 1994.
During the eight years without an installed Pastor, the church survived on faith and prayer.
The Rev. Patricia A. Singletary was called and installed as the congregation's first female Pastor on September 22, 2002, and is also of African American descent. Under her leadership to date the church has come alive and in celebration of all our possibilities.
A Strategic Plan was established for the entire church. We have successfully identified our place, presence and purpose of mission and ministry in the Village of Harlem and beyond.
We are called into service to embrace and empower the community! Our mission statement reflects this: "The mission of the Elmendorf Reformed Church is to reach out into the community and beyond by witnessing, winning souls and glorifying God through Jesus Christ, empowered by the Holy Spirit."
New ministries have evolved: The One in the Spirit Ministry [Church School], P.U.S.H [Prayer Until Something Happens] Ministry, M.I.C. [Media, Information, Communication] Ministry, Y.A.Ms [Young Adult] Ministry, Tract Outreach Ministry, Junior Usher Board Ministry, Men of Elmendorf Fellowship [MOE] Ministry, Amachi-Elmendorf Mentoring partnership Ministry. Women's Tea Time Ministry, WWJD Ministry, Floral Ministry, The Drama Ministry, Ministry of Mercy [food distribution]; The Quarter Century Members Club; the establishing of our presence beyond our four walls with our Website and Blog Ministry.
New partnerships have been established with such notables as: Harlem Congregations for Community Improvement [HCCI], Harlem's Head-Start-the Dr. Thelma Adair Center; Community School District Region #9
As the Holy Spirit moves more missions and ministries shall come forth.
Roll Call of Ministers
For further information about our Church, come and visit us or contact: The Elmendorf Historical Society, Attn: Elder Margaret McCants.