Monday, April 28, 2008


It's a rainy day here in the Ridge and what better day to muse on the impending destruction of the Green Church.

I don't know Pastor Robert Emerick, pastor of the Methodist "Green" Church. I've never met him and know very little about him. What I do know of him is from the press. I could be angry with him but I think I'm mostly disappointed in him.

Pastor Emerick is a spiritual leader and a leader of the community, but from what I've witnessed he's been more divisive than a leader.

The battle for the Green Church has been particularly nasty. The preservationists and the congregants both must shoulder the blame. But I'm disappointed that a spiritual leader couldn't rise above it all. Emerick couldn't bring the two sides together peacefully. I'm sure he would say that he did try but the preservationists wouldn't cooperate. But being a leader isn't easy. If it was, everyone would be a leader. But I haven't seen Emerick possess any leadership qualities.
“It is none of your business, or anyone else’s” said Pastor Robert Emerick.
While technically this may be true, what we're talking about is a building that has been a part of this community for 108 years. Perhaps turning the church into a town hall or performing arts center would be for the greater good and not just the Methodists good.
“I have decided that I am not going to dignify this process with a response any longer,” Emerick said. “I am not happy with how the media has handled this, so I am not going to answer any more questions.”
Yeah, that's good leadership. Just shut down when things don't go your way.
Emerick was later quoted as referring to the remains as “only dust."
How very sensitive.
“The group is thinking of Bay Ridge in the golden age of its past. They’re appealing to emotions,” he said. “This is a small group of people who think of the old church in terms of the old little red schoolhouse.”
No, the people are thinking of it as a part of the fabric of the neighborhood.
“The building can’t be saved. The old stones can’t be restored. Saving it just won’t work,” said Rev. Emerick. “It would take millions of dollars to do the job. Even if that was successful, in a few decades we’d be raising funds again to save it.”
Actually, in the late 1990s, the church itself approached the Landmarks Preservation Committee for designation. A structural analysis was done and it was determined that the stone was the problem. Serpentine stone is porous and flaky. A firm came in and offered a few suggestions.

1. Replace the stone with a like stone. Replacing it with serpentine or a similar stone would be costly and in years we'd be right back to where we are now.

2. Replace it with some kind of tinted concrete or pre-cast stone. While this would structurally sound, the church would be ineligible for landmark designation.

When the church showed up recently on a realtor's website, listing the property for sale, this is what Emerick had to say.
"The preservationists are behind this buzz," said Pastor Emerick. "People have a tendency to see an assumption as a fact. The assumption is wrong, and so, then of course, is the so-called fact."
The ad was on Dakota Realty's website. When a reporter called, he was told the seller was Betesh, the man who purchased the property from the church. "Assumption?"

Councilman Gentile tried for a win-win situation. Not only was his offer turned down but Emerick demonstrated outside Gentile's officer, holding a sign that said
“Please Stop Hurting Bay Ridge United Methodist Church.”
It will be sad to see the Green Church destroyed. But what's sadder is the faith in Pastor Robert Emerick, a community leader, has been destroyed.


Anonymous said...

Like water to wine, he turns churches to condos.

Anonymous said...


You're making a lot of assumptions about Emerick's role that are not true, or only partially true.

Emerick is not a 'community leader' in the sense you're implying. He is, first and foremost, a leader of this particular congregation which served this community for 109 years. His obligation is to shepherd his flock, not to satisfy Bay Ridgites at large. A congregation which for some unexplained reason has chosen to remain here and continue work to do the work fewer people are standing up to do.

You're also assuming that Emerick has the final say in how this congregation choses to appropriate their assets.

He doesn't.

The Methodists have a council, and the congregation has voting members who ultimately decide the fate of their assets. He is merely there to facilitate those wishes.

This chain of events, as unfortunate as they may be, was set in motion long before Emerick even arrived on scene and the 'deal' between Gentile and Emerick has largely been misrepresented and taken out of context because it suits the easy story.

As it has been stated, people can argue over the wisdom of this sale from a profit standpoint. But profit this congregation has a right to.

I can absolutely empathize with Pastor Emerick's frustrations, he has been treated by the local media unkindly, to say nothing of unfairly.

We conveniently leave out the fact that the congregation has made no secret of their intentions to sell their property in absence of the community's participation to raise meaningful dollars, for well over 5 years. It only became a 'story' when they actually found a buyer.

The real story is that the community surrounding this church is basically deteriorating, not simply the church itself.

The harder issue to face (outside of what is largely a social activity for those involved) is that they can't stand to look inward and accept, as members of this community who claim to value preservation, that they may be responsible for failing themselves.

Mark said...

Anon 2,

You bring up some very good points.

Yes, Emerick is the leader of this particular congregation. But in my mind, he also a community leader. He is the leader of a community establishment.

If the community is deteriorating, it might be because it's a series of fiefdoms. If every establishment merely does what is best for them, we no longer have a community. Thinking and acting for the greater good has to start somewhere. It did not start with this particular congregation.

Yes, the council and the congregation chose to sell the church. I'm suggesting that a religious figure could have handled it better. If he felt he was getting a raw deal with the media, then perhaps he should have written a letter to the local papers that could have brought the two sides together. Instead he chose to retreat and then occasionally attack the preservationists.

I believe he should have set an example for taking the high road. I feel he didn't.

As for raising meaningful dollars, it all happened before I lived here. From what I've heard, the church half-heartily did some fund raising. Whether that's true or not I don't know. But there are certainly many organizations that could have offered assistance, tax breaks, etc. Not to mention that the Methodist council could have helped out with funding.

All in all it's a very difficult issue. Like I said, if the serpentine stone is replaced with a like stone, the flaking problem will happen again.

If the stone is replaced with a "modern" stone, disintegration would not occur, but the church couldn't be landmarked.

Re-using elements of the church into the new building is a possibility and a compromise. Neither side brought this up, but I feel it should have come from Emerick. Instead he basically said, "leave us alone. We'll do what we want."

Anonymous said...

Just some thoughts...
1. I am in favor of saving the church... even though it's private property, it is beautiful, historic and architectural... The argument that it is religious ad private has no value. If it did, we would allow other notable buildings to be demolished as well.... Sat. Patrick's Cathedral, Notre Dame in Paris, Mount Vernon, etc... The green Church may fade in comparison to these structures, but it is what Bay Ridge has and is worth saving. The truth is we are a community and what happens on "private property" influences an entire everyone.
2. Jesus does not care about these buildings, in contrast to what my fellow preservationists say. He would be more inclined to provide housing for the needy and feed the hungry. The Bible says that this world as we know it will pass and His Kingdom will come. So, let's keep Jesus and His words in our hearts but out of this issue.
3. Pastor Emerick and the congregation are not evil people. I am deeply sadenned that we have made a pastor and a bunch of elderly church goers who are truly decent people into a bunch of villains. The pastor did tell me that the building has been for sale for years, but this outcry has occurred only after a buyer was found. They have to make decisions in favor of their church and mission, whatever it is, which brings me to the last point...
4. I believe the main problem here is a failure of the church to the Gospel. One hundred years ago, the Methodist Church was having revivals and a significant "Holiness Movement." This is about when the congregation built this magnificent building. I can imagine that church building and the school building filled with families... people having to go to the balcony for seating. In recent years this denomination and other protestant denominations are plagues with poor leadership where there is an agenda to push a social gospel that preaches equality, do good, feel good, etc... One rarely hears the message of Christ's Gospel... that is of repentance, salvation through grace, humility, love, yearning for His return. This and other churches have become so liberal that most families have moved on to other churches.

Considering all this, I hope that the Green Church is spared. Once destroyed it can never be brought back... now this is a shame. I am so impressed by communities across America that strive to preserve their architectural identity, and yet here in NYC, where our history can be more significant, there is no hesitation to knock down buildings and keep re-building...

Anonymous said...

To the statement above:

"The argument that it is religious ad private has no value. If it did, we would allow other notable buildings to be demolished as well.... Sat. Patrick's Cathedral, Notre Dame in Paris, Mount Vernon, etc"

This is false logic.

The places you list are not trying to be sold. The owners of the Green Church are trying to sell their property. That's a difference.

Anonymous said...

there is no difference... historic & archtectural buildings can be privately or publicly owned, they can be sold and bought, but should not be demolished or disfigured regardless who owns or buys them... this is my point. For example, the Farrell House on 95th Street is a private residence, but the owners that bought it cannot demolish it. Of course this is a city landmark and the Green Church is not. I feel there is plenty of reason to have the church landmarked, but probably politics and greed are in the way, probably at least...

Anonymous said...

I wonder whether the preservationists' argument that society can tell real estate owners what to do with their property is analogous to the pro-life / anti-abortion argument that society can tell a woman not to have an abortion.

I would say they are consistent views.

Anonymous said...

8:22.... it is a stretch, but pro-lifers defend the lives of the unborn, who cannot defend themselves, preservationists do the same for buildings and monuments that cannot defend themselves. Personally, I consider both movements high callings.

Anonymous said...


You say: "a religious figure could have handled it better."

This is a mantra that never seems to go away.

While life is seldom fair, the essence of true fair play here is that both parties accept the judgment of those who are delegated with the responsibilities of what goes, and what stays (gets preserved).

As cold and frost bitten as that may seem, welcome to the joys of living in a big city, and a democracy.

Emerick and his congregation would have to live with the consequences of landmarking, just as preservationists now must live with the reality of the decision not to.

That is fair play.

Not so suggest that one man, who was only around here long enough to bear the brunt of a PR war could 'do more.'

What more is there to do when you're dealing with emotionally complicated individuals who no more want to acknowledge what they believe is perhaps untrue, if not totally and completely backwards?

I will reiterate: the church's distress only seemed to become an actual local media story when the church found a buyer. Why wasn't it such a sensational story years ago when this congregation not only said they were attempting to raise money, but would have to sell if the community didn't respond?

I'm sorry to say the preservationists you're dealing with have taken an adversarial posture from day 1.

Let's assume Emerick could have 'handled it better.'

Let's assume he sat down with these preservationists, and at the end of this 'sit-down' the congregation still walked away saying: 'look, we appreciate your feelings, but our situation demands us to sell.'

Do you think these people would be any less restrained or satisfied?

C'mon Mark, please.

You know as well as anyone here that these people are not appeased short of giving them what they want. That's not life. That's not even adulthood.

And the more you listen to these people, the more you come to realize that their credibility (much less their sanity) is not in tact.

They start slash and burn smear campaigns against people who will not submit, and marginalize anyone who is not on board 100% with their message.

That is not being a community.

The preservationists you speak of, whose hearts may be in the right place, are not adults. They are emotionally and intellectually immature.

They talk about a Performing Arts Center, like New Jersey's NJPAC???

Pleases, who will frequent this performing arts space?

Again, where was this idea years ago when the church was in its first throws of distress?

These are t he same people it took half a year to figure out how to assemble a large number of people at one time, in front of one place, and look what they did with it - they banged pots.

The Alpine was to be converted into just that, a multi-use performing arts space, and look where the demand for that type of space has left that project. In purgatory.

Or are we to believe, 'if we build it they will come?'

Mark, we're not park slope, we never will be... and that's actually quite OK with me.

The armory project down in south slope almost didn't find a tenant at all until the 11th hour, and that was after a 200+ million dollar city funded restoration.

The fact is there's a credibility factor here. While most people may misconstrue Emerick's silence at the beginning and his push back towards the finish line, the preservationists have no credibility.

It is not for us, as outsiders, as those who haven't so much batted an eyelash prior to these thaatrics to say:

"they half-heartedly raised money."

"our engineer says this... theirs says that..."

"it will ONLY cost this... not that."

Instead, we need to be asking where do we go from here. Who has the stomach to pony up their time, their money, and their skills to midwife a meaningful preservation committee.

Not lump one in with he BRCC's antique car club, or knitting committee.

But something with some guts to it.

Sadly, the answer is it doesn't appear as if anyone has the requisite skills beyond admiring these buildings.

Mark said...

Anon (if that is your real name),

I mostly agree with you. I don't believe the Preservationists acted well in this at all. Both sides are to blame for this getting so out of hand.

What I'm saying is the high road has to begin somewhere, and what better place than from a religious leader. Maybe I hold religious leaders to a higher standard. Priests, Rabbis, Reverends, Pastors are leaders of their congregations, their flocks. The congregations look to them for guidance and leadership. These congregations are part of a community. If congregations see their leaders engaging in the same divisive way as the people who are "emotionally and intellectually immature," what message does that send to the congregation?

The high road has to begin somewhere or else we'll just end up with bickering and fighting all of the time. My feeling is that Emerick could have risen above the nastiness, but I don't think he did.

It seems like (and remember I've only been here for a year) the two sides could never come together and work through it together. I posted a while ago a list of questions I had that still aren't really answered because it's "he said, she said."

And yes, I agree that we all must learn from this and plan "where we go from here."

Me? I'm going to Starbucks.

Anonymous said...

Mark, sometimes taking the high road means 'turning the other cheek.'

But when bullies push, you push back.

You don't bargain with bullies, and you don't sit down with extortionists. And that is what these particular preservationists are.

When these preservationists talk about the 'high-road,' despite what they say, about goodwill, sitting down in good faith, etc it's really as loaded a statement as everything else they say.

What they really mean is, they want the church to stand, period, and they'll create a situation where they can embarrass these people into sitting down with them to browbeat them into doing it.

Mark said...

It's really been contentious, which is a shame.

There's almost been a blind fight to landmark the church, but that is fraught with problems.

Realistically, I think incorporating elements of the church into the new building is the best answer.

And yes, after getting pushed around sometimes you need to push back. If I were in Emerick's shoes I might have done the same thing.

Still, right or wrong, I hold religious leaders to a higher standard.

When news came out that the church was up for sale on Dakota Realty, questions needed to be answered. People wanted to know what was happening. However I felt Emerick didn't take the high road when he said "The preservationists are behind this buzz," said Pastor Emerick. "People have a tendency to see an assumption as a fact. The assumption is wrong, and so, then of course, is the so-called fact."

I can understand pushing back, but this was a legitimate concern. Was the listing a mistake? The realtor said Betesh was the seller. There was real concern and the best Emerick could come out with was blaming the preservationists? I expect better from him.

And it's hard to discern what is real when I read “The building is falling down. It’s crumbling. The building is not safe.”

And then less than a month later read "The Bay Ridge United Methodist Church lent its beautiful interior to the Guild for Exceptional Children on Feb. 11 for a concert fundraiser."

Is the building safe or not? If it's not safe, why have a fundraiser inside.

But to move forward, I hope whoever rebuilds there will incorporate elements of the church. It would be shame to have it completely disappear.

I also agree that we need a "meaningful preservation committee." One that has goals, an overall plan, and the ability to get things done without smear campaigns. It may take a few of us to step up to the plate.