Church of the Week: Marble Collegiate Church, New York

Marble Collegiate Church is the oldest place of worship of the Collegiate Reformed Protestant Dutch Church of the City of New York, organized in 1628 under the Dutch West India Company and New York was called New Amsterdam. It is the oldest Protestant organization in North America with continuous service for 374 years, and the church where the renowned Norman Vincent Peale pastored and preached for 54 years.

The lovely Robin and I visited this church in 1979 on an "Observation Sunday" when we were cadets in training with The Salvation Army.

Part of the name of the church refers to the Collegium system of the seventeenth through nineteenth century, when ministry colleagues would rotate among the several Dutch Reformed Churches on Manhattan Island. Though the Collegium practice ceased in 1871, the name continues. The cornerstone of Marble Collegiate Church was laid in November 1851, and the church was dedicated on October 11, 1854. Designed by architect Samuel A. Warner, the church is also named for its construction out of solid blocks of marble, shipped down river from a quarry at Hastings-on-Hudson. As the city limit was then at 23rd Street, and Fifth Avenue was a dirt road, the surrounding cast iron fence (still standing) was erected to keep cattle out of the churchyard.

The church hosts a dizzying array of services and programs. Above is a labyrinth, available to the public in the basement of the church every Wednesday evening during Lent and the first Wednesday of every month after that (a labyrinth is a walking aid to meditation found in various forms in many cultural and religious traditions). This one is painted on canvas and is based on the design of a labyrinth inlaid in the floor of Chartres Cathedral in France in the 1200s.

One of the delightful features of the church, added recently, is the Children's Chapel, created by award-winning interior designer Valerie Onor.

In their wedding invitations, Valerie and her husband, Dick Doll, asked their guests, if they wished to donate a gift, to put it towards the creation of the Childrens’ Chapel. In addition to these gifts, many of the artists and craftsmen employed by Valerie’s interior design firm contributed their time and skill. The result was the beautiful chapel pictured above.

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