New York history

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New York

Perhaps the first assembly in the state was started in Buffalo in 1875 by Edward Fairbairn, a Scottish immigrant who worked in secular employment all his life. The group he gathered together for Bible studies and prayer first met to Break Bread in a rented second floor room on Main street in Buffalo. The Joseph Morton family joined the group in 1877, followed by Alexander Tweedley and John Townsend. These Christians were evangelistic and spread the Gospel into the newly formed Village of Blasdell. The first three to preach there were Messrs. Fairbairn, Tweedley, and Townsend.

As numbers increased, the Christians moved to Allen Street in downtown Buffalo, and then to Florida Street. In 1877 the assembly acquired a brick cottage at 111 Elmwood Avenue and called it Assembly Hall. A basement was added, and a second floor with a caretaker’s apartment. The apartment later became a place where visiting missionaries could stay.

The Buffalo Assembly Hall later spawned three other assemblies: Blasdell Gospel Chapel in 1888; Berkshire Avenue Chapel in 1929; and Cold Spring Bible Chapel in 1963.

Assembly Hall changed its name to Elmwood Gospel Chapel in 1951. Elmwood Gospel Chapel was one of the original founding and participating assemblies in the origins of Camp Li-Lo-Li in 1952. In 1964, Elmwood closed its doors because the neighborhood had become dangerous and joined with the Berkshire Avenue Chapel pending purchase of property in an area where most of its people lived. They located a lot in Amherst and erected the Amherst Bible Chapel. In 1974, they parted from Berkshire and moved into their new building.

In the late 1970s and early 1980s, a severe economic depression in the Buffalo area forced about half the assembly to move because of job transfers. However, the assembly continued, and has slowly grown from its lowest point. About 60 people attended the Family Bible Hour in the 1990’s. Over the years, leaders have included Edward Fairbairn, Alexander Tweedley, John Townsend, George Lord, George Gibson, Carlton Clapp, James Virtue, Harry Thompson, Alvin Sauer, Edwin Monroe, David Ednie, Robert Parker, Samuel Brady, George Boggess, Charles Parsons, David McCulloch, Melville Northrop, and Clyde Tyson.

Many workers have been commended from Amherst Bible Chapel and its antecedents, to mission fields and full time work, perhaps more than any other North American assembly. One of these workers was Abigail Townsend Luff, the well-known “Sister Abigail,” commended in about 1905 for full-time ministry to El Nathan Home, since moved to Marble Hill, MO. Sister Abigail was a great influence in the assembly in its days at 111 Elmwood Avenue.

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Berkshire Avenue Chapel in Buffalo began in the Kensington area in rented space in the Knights Lodge on Bailey Avenue near Shirley. It consisted in its early days mainly of believers from Assembly Hall and was called Kensington Gospel Meeting at that time. The believers changed the name to Kensington Gospel Hall in approximately 1936 when they purchased a frame church building at the corner of Berkshire and Suffolk Streets. In about 1938, a fire destroyed the building, and the assembly met with the neighboring Calvary Baptist Church while the new semi-basement part of a future chapel was built. Early in 1952, a second floor with additional lower rooms was constructed. The name became Berkshire Avenue Chapel at this time. From 1964 through 1974, the Elmwood Gospel Chapel believers joined with them, a period remembered as very profitable.

Leaders in the earlier history of Berkshire Avenue Chapel include Wallace Logan (when on furlough from Africa), Paul Sacher, Walter Lord, Sam Carson, Sr., George Gibson, John Hynd, and Walter Holler. Since then, elders include William Sacher, Harry Thompson, Phillip Ensmenger, David Bell, G. Stewart Timm, Clarence Bunce, Floyd Crittendon, Otto Kuehliewind, Rolland Walker, Jack Pinkham, Les Paulson, Lee Kiddy, H. James Thompson, Harry Chang, Fred Pohle, Bill Pohle, Ken Pohle, Don Santucci, Michael Johnson, and Paul Ranbler.

Commended and co-commended workers were sent to the Philippines, Nigeria, and Colombia. Otis and Geraldine Tillman were commended to inner-city Buffalo. Berkshire Avenue Chapel discontinued in1992.

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South of Buffalo in the western part of New York state is Jamestown. Grace Chapel in Jamestown began in 1951 in a home at 141 Beechview Avenue. Gunnard Lindberg, Donald Allison, Merrill Allison, John Cole, and James Bottomley were those involved in the start-up of that assembly. These and James Loizeaux, Kenneth Cole, and Harold Collette have been its leaders. The Grace Chapel assembly has commended workers to the Lord’s field in Puerto Rico. About 30 adults and youngsters attend Grace Chapel.

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An assembly in Rochester began in 1916 as a result of efforts by Harold Harper and John Bramhall. The Christians first met on St. Paul Boulevard, then moved into a building at the corner of Carter and Hearld Streets, where they took the name Carter Street Assembly. After that they moved to 195 Congress Avenue, the current location, where they took the name Congress Avenue Gospel Chapel for a time, before changing to Congress Avenue Bible. Some of the leaders over the years have been Bob Westfall, Ted Larter, Vernon Larter, Jim Boyd, Mel Northrup, and Harvey Rodger. Two assemblies have hived off from Congress: Northgate Bible Chapel and Crossroads Bible Fellowship. Congress Avenue Bible Chapel has about 200 adults and youngsters. The assembly has commended workers to Zambia, Colombia, Zaire, and Papua New Guinea. Randy Amos and Ray Blais and their families were commended for full time work at Northgate and elsewhere.

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Northgate Bible Chapel in Rochester began in 1965 at 240 McGuire Road, its present location. A hive-off from Congress Avenue Gospel Chapel, it was begun by the families of Robert Westfall, Earl Clark, Andrew Greer, Ted Larter, Orville Musclow, James Boyd, and Gladys Valcore. Leaders have included the six men named above, with James Nieboer, Herm Klingenberger, and Dale Brooks. The active assembly has commended workers to the Lord’s service in Colombia, Zaire, and Zambia, and to serve with International Crusades. Ray and Becky Blais are commended for youth work at Northgate and at Camp Li-Lo-Li. About 160 adults and children attend Northgate Bible Chapel.

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Crossroads Bible Fellowship in Rochester began Breaking Bread in 1996 in the home of Chuck and Mary Gianotti. The meeting moved to the Norman Howard School at 725 Pinnacle Road, Henrietta on Easter Sunday, 1997. The assembly began with the blessing of Congress Avenue Bible Chapel, from which most of the original members came; the Gianottis moved down from Canada. The Gianottis, Rick and Jennifer Myles, Bill and Kelly Wendlandt, Jim Mayer, and Larry Haag were the principals involved in the start-up and are the recognized leaders of the assembly. About 45 adults and youngsters attend Crossroads Bible Fellowship.

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Prior to World War I, the Schenectady Believers Assembly met on Vischer Avenue in the Bellevue section of Schenectady. From 1923 to 1940, the Christians met in rented quarters at the IOOF Hall at Broadway and Thompson Streets. From 1940 to the present, they have been in their own quarters at Bellevue Gospel Chapel in Rotterdam at 2702 Guilderland Avenue. Alex Cooke is the person starting the Believers Assembly on Vischer Avenue, while Robert Wallace and Arnold Button initiated the move to Broadway and Thompson Streets, with Robert Wallace and Albert Davids instrumental in the move to Guilderland Avenue.

Those active in leadership include Albert Davids, Walter Delap, Harvey Wilson, Fred O’Bryon, Earl Brinkman, Clayton Anderson, Abraham Laurenzo, Burnell Fields, Doug Lewis, Rick Strohm, Bill Crecca, and John Smith. Bellevue Gospel Chapel has commended workers to the field in Zambia. About 100 adults and children attend the assembly.

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Shiloh Gospel Chapel in White Plains has its roots in a Sunday School work begun in that city in the fall of 1955. Sanford Fray and others of Grace Gospel Chapel in New York City developed this outreach. When a good number of children were coming, weekly Bible studies were started, and from that the Lord’s Supper began in August 1958.

The assembly has moved through several locations and now occupies a chapel at 27 Juniper Hill Road. Stanley Fray and others have shared in the leadership after Sanford Fray relocated. The assembly has about 50 adults and six children.

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Community Bible Church of Northern Westchester, at 301 Chadeayne Road in the village of Ossining on the Hudson River, started in 1970 as a hive-off from both Bethany Chapel in Yonkers and the White Plains Gospel Chapel. Ten families, including those of Tom Dunkerton, Nathan E. Dunkerton, Fred Vesperman, and Paul Winter, began the new assembly. Nathan Dunkerton and David Dunkerton have been the active leaders; David Dunkerton serves as the full-time worker. The assembly has commended workers to the Lord’s service with A.I.M. Kenya and to Colombia; to local ministry with Intervarsity Christian Fellowship, Campus Crusade, and World Concern; and to Men’s Mission in Alabama. Grace Sidebotham has been commended for neighborhood Bible studies. Community Bible Church has about 135 adults and youngsters in regular attendance.

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An assembly now meeting at Bethany Chapel in Yonkers began in about 1910 in South Yonkers, meeting in homes on St. Andrews Place. George Clarke, O.E. Dunkerton, E. Morgan, David Munro, and David Tully are the founders. The assembly was initially composed primarily of families relocated by their companies from other places. The group met for a time in the Temperance Hall on Palisade Avenue, then at the Women’s Institute on North Broadway. In 1931, the Christians incorporated their assembly as Bethany Gospel Chapel and in 1938 they built their own chapel at 55 Greenvale Avenue, their present address. Other elders after the early period include, among many, Edward and John Drost, John T. Ferris Sr., Candido Sousa, and Ned and Tom Dunkerton.

Workers have been commended to Peru, Korea, Mexico, South Africa, and the Congo. Many others have been commended for ministry within the U.S. About 70 persons are presently in Bethany Chapel.

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In 1912, several black brethren who had come from the British West Indies were in fellowship with Christians at the 125th Street Assembly in New York City. Being in the white section of the city, they were not reaching the blacks. Then the Nottage brothers, together with Messrs. Sampson, Seeley, McLaughlin, and others began open-air work and other activities. A tract band was formed in 1913, and three and a half million tracts were bought and distributed by the summer of 1914. Hundreds were saved or restored to the Lord. Home meetings were begun in the winter of 1913, and this led to the establishment of the first assembly in the black areas of New York City. By October 1914, 30 of the believers were able to gather as a local church at 50 West 134th Street in the heart of Harlem. Called Grace Gospel Chapel, the assembly grew in ten years to 300. Today, Grace Gospel Chapel is located nearby at 102 West 133rd Street.

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Many of the Christians in fellowship at Grace Gospel Chapel were being relocated to Queens in the late 1940s. After many tent meetings in 1948 on Northern Boulevard in Corona, in the Queens area, they realized the need for a meeting place in that area, and purchased a store front on 103rd Street, calling it Corona Gospel Hall. After that it was called Corona Gospel Chapel and upon the 1962 completion of a new chapel at 102-05 35th Avenue, Galilee Gospel Chapel.

Those involved in the start-up include Evans Welch, Joseph Muller, Lloyd Rallos, Jerry Thompson, A. Cambridge, B. Holder, and Mr. McClaughlin who conducted the tent meetings. Others active in leadership include S. Graves, L. Collymore, B. Phillips, G. Tucker, and G. Daniels. Joseph Muller has been commended for full time work at the assembly. About 150 adults and youngsters are in the meeting.

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Good Tidings Gospel Hall in Brooklyn traces its history to a small home meeting in 1918 at 136 Third Avenue in Brooklyn, the home of Thomas and Elizabeth Ellis. A few believers originally from the Caribbean met in the Ellis home for prayer and Bible study. At that time, they fellowshipped at the 13th Street Assembly in Brooklyn, comprised largely of caucasian believers. But they yearned to reach the blacks in their own neighborhood and sought God’s face for His enabling. The Spirit of God worked among them; backsliders came under conviction and were restored, and souls were being saved. Albertha Herbert and Alexander Weeks were among the first fruits and became stalwarts in the work.

At first the group met monthly on first Sundays while they continued to fellowship with the 13th Street Assembly. Soon they began meeting weekly in homes. In April 1919 they rented quarters at 160 Third Avenue for a Sunday School, and three weeks later began celebrating the Lord’s Supper there with an initial attendance of 14. The young assembly was assisted by Grace Gospel Chapel in New York City, both financially and in ministry. John B. Hunte, Thomas Ellis, and Joseph Griffith are considered the founding elders. They were soon joined as elders by George Jilkes, James E. Herbert, and George Phillips.

By the end of 1919, the membership had increased to 79, and the assembly relocated to larger quarters at 169 Third Avenue. Between 1930 and 1940, the assembly in cooperation with Grace Gospel Chapel began a program of open-air preaching, which resulted in the formation of two more assemblies, in Corona (Queens) and in Montclair, New Jersey. During the period 1940 to 1950, the assembly increased through conversions and immigration from the Caribbean. The Christians relocated to the Old Globe Theatre on Sumpter Street and remained there for many years. They incorporated as Good Tidings Gospel Hall in 1940.

The expanding assembly needed more room; in 1983, they were donated the deed to property at the corner of Fulton Street and Reid Avenue, now Malcolm X Boulevard. They constructed a new building seating 400 and continue at that location. The vigorous assembly publishes a quarterly paper, has a radio program, and has many youth outreaches. From 1930 and on, the assembly sent many of its members to mission fields in Barbados, the West Indies, the western United States, and Florida. Elders since the early days include Donald Robinson, George Berry, William Cox, William Lane, Joseph Welch, Theodore Edghill, Frederick Pilgrim, Granville Salmon, Theophilus Cato, Justin Mason, Alfred Fox, Roy Sixto, Andrew Esdelle, Hugh Wood, Rudolph Jackson, and Patson Agard. Today there are about 350 in fellowship under the spiritual leadership of eight elders.

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Sea Cliff Gospel Chapel in Sea Cliff, Long Island has its beginnings in 1889. The year before, William A. Isaac had immigrated from Ireland to accept employment as estate superintendent for a wealthy businessman, John T. Pirie. Mr. Pirie was a staunch Methodist and was concerned that his superintendent seemed not to be a believer, apparently because the Isaacs were not attending a church. But Mr. Isaac explained that he and his family “broke bread” each Sunday in their own home in the manner of the earliest Christians. Mr. Pirie asked if he could join them and was so impressed that he asked others to be included. The assembled group increased to about thirty families, and Mr. Pirie then provided larger quarters on his estate for the Sea Cliff Assembly.

From 1901 through 1906, Bible conferences were held on the Pirie estate, in a tent seating 600 people. C.I. Scofield attended some of these conferences, and there, with Arno Gaebelein, expressed his desire to produce a reference Bible. Mr. Pirie and others of wealth supported the project, and much of the writing was done in the Pirie home.

The German Methodists moved a ‘Tabernacle,’ a large open-air frame structure, to the north end of Main Street in Sea Cliff, and tents and dormitories were erected for accommodations. It seems that these Methodists and the brethren cooperated to an extent in this venture, for the Centennial report states, “Prayer and revival meetings were held by the Methodists and the brethren, and there was a spirit of evangelism that spread over the whole area of Sea Cliff and its surroundings.”

Prior to 1918, the brethren continued to meet in the cottage on the Pirie estate. In that year, the building the Methodists had used on 14th Avenue was purchased for the assembly. The assembly was incorporated as Sea Cliff Gospel Hall and met there until 1949. The property was titled to Miss Margaret Pirie, and the officers of the corporation were initially all members of the Pirie family, male and female. A 1944 document shows that the assets and control of the corporation were to be turned over to the Sea Cliff Assembly upon moving into planned larger quarters.

The new Sea Cliff Gospel Chapel was completed in August 1949 on a large lot at Sea Cliff and Carpenter Avenues. A Hammond organ and a Steinway piano were donated to the assembly, which has had a vigorous musical program since that time. The Sunday School has attracted up to 150 students. The assembly has maintained an active youth program with Good News Clubs, Pioneer Girls, craft classes, jail ministries with the young people, and for a time a special Sunday School for retarded children, managed by Helga Swanson.

One of the early preachers at the chapel was Richard Hill, a former missionary to Russia, and later involved with the Missionary Institute in Brooklyn, where several well-known brethren missionaries received training. Mr. Hill, with the help of Christian Missions in Many Lands, directed the Sea Cliff Conferences that continued at the “Tabernacle” into the 1930s.

Apparently the first commended worker by the Sea Cliff Assembly was sent in 1930 to France to direct an orphan home there. Many others have since been commended to the work at home and abroad, including Walter Liefeld who was commended to full-time chapel ministry in 1961; he was later commended by the assembly to teaching at Trinity Seminary in Illinois.

Besides those mentioned above, other leaders include Franklyn Mauger, Thomas Isaac, Albert Grieg, Byron Bjork, Bill Isaac, Cyril Lewis, Mark Diggory, Herbert Liefeld, Robert D. Kroeger, Charles Hendron, Harry Thurber, and David Collins. The active assembly has attracted ministry by many well-known brethren preachers and missionaries.

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Edward Dugan, who was a baker, pitched a Gospel tent in 1927 on a lot he owned in Glen Head, Long Island. He invited preachers such as Willie Beveridge and Hugh McEwen to preach there, and he too did open-air preaching and tract distribution. In 1929, the tent was replaced by a house called the Gospel Meeting House. Regular assembly meetings began at that time.

Sisters from the nearby Sea Cliff Assembly helped establish a Sunday School work. Gordon Reager came often to the assembly in those days. Horace Klenk did neighborhood and hospital visitation work in the area for many years. In 1932, May Carruthers came into the Glen Head assembly and became a real worker, winning many to Christ. Evangelist Richard Hill came every Tuesday evening from Brooklyn to conduct a Bible study, and later joined the assembly. The Gospel Meeting House has been at 2 Orchard Street since its inception and had the same name. About 40 adults and youngsters attend the Gospel Meeting House today.

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In 1880, Charles F. Boynton, an ordained minister, was dismissed from the Presbyterian church in Freeport, Long Island when he persisted in preaching the Gospel. He had met brethren in Delaware, and became acquainted with Malachi Taylor in New York, so he took the dismissal as an indication that the Lord wanted him to make the change. He and his wife began Remembering the Lord at his home at 500 Babylon Turnpike, Freeport, on the first Sunday after his dismissal. This was the start of the Freeport Assembly.

In 1907, the Frew and Cameron families arrived from Scotland and joined the Freeport Assembly, and the Medd, Wilson, and Carnie families came in about 1910. At that time, quarters were rented on the second floor of the Realty Building on Railroad Avenue, Freeport for the assembly meetings. They continued there until about 1918 when they moved to the hall of the Vigilent Hose Company on North Main Street. In 1920, the assembly purchased a lot on West Dean Street and erected the Dean Street Chapel in Freeport.

The Sunday School thrived and outgrew the available facilities, and in 1954 the assembly enlarged and renovated the chapel. H.P. Johnson, H.F. Baehr, and Quentin Bennett are among those in active leadership over the years. Dean Street Chapel has commended workers to the Lord’s service in France, the Philippines, Nepal and Butan, and Turkey. About 60 adults and youngsters attend the assembly today.

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Born as a Roman Catholic in the New York metropolitan area, John Thomas was saved in 1968, and discipled and introduced to the assemblies by Stan Vaninger. He moved to Colorado Springs where he benefitted from the ministry of John Walden. He helped establish Bethany Bible Chapel, Warsaw, IN and had an itinerant preaching ministry in the Midwest, North Carolina, and Virginia. Wanting to return to New York, Mr. Thomas accepted the pastorate of the independent First Baptist Church at 35 Campus Drive in Port Washington on Long Island in 1982. In that year, the church started and continues to run the Port Washington Christian School. In two years, the constitution of the church was changed to incorporate a plurality of elders, the Lord’s Supper was instituted, and the name was changed to The Bible Church of Port Washington. John Gerringer from the Shannon Hills Chapel in Greensboro, NC came to help in the work, and now he and John Thomas are the two elders. The assembly has about 70 adults and children.

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Though Staten Island is a borough of New York City, it lies against New Jersey, connected to it at Elizabeth by the Goethals Bridge across the narrow Arthur Kill. In 1937, a small assembly of Mennonite Brethren was established at Port Richmond on the north shore of the Island. In 1939, the group moved to nearby West Brighton and adopted the name Beth-Car Mennonite Brethren in Christ. The young men who established the assembly had been working to plant a church in Elizabeth, New Jersey. In the 1950s, the Mennonite Conference of which the group was a part decided to move to a more Reformational stance and changed its name to Bible Fellowship Church. In response the local fellowship changed its name to Bible Fellowship Church of Staten Island in 1959.

Ralph Ritter had been in fellowship at Collingdale Gospel Chapel in Collingdale, PA in his college years, and in fellowship at other assemblies in Pennsylvania and Massachusetts later. In 1991, Bible Fellowship Church of Staten Island asked him to be its pastor. Mr. Ritter responded that he would consider it if they could accept the teachings on the New Testament church. The elders of the congregation readily agreed to this and encouraged him to introduce the Breaking of Bread service, and to follow the Scriptures in every respect.

Thus, Bible Fellowship Church of Staten Island, while still maintaining their conference connections, entered fellowship with the ‘open’ brethren. After that, Mr. Ritter called their attention to the Walterick Address of Assemblies with the result that the elders desired to be listed therein and thus identified with the ‘open’ brethren. The church has a fellowship of 63, with an average attendance of about 40.

Sources

  • Questionnaire responses and other correspondence
  • Sea Cliff Gospel Chapel, A Century of Proclaiming God’s Word, 1889-1989
  • 100th Anniversary of the Freeport Assembly now known as the Dean Street Chapel, by Dick Johnson, 1980
  • A Narrative History of a Century of Work for God, Assembly Hall and Elmwood Gospel Chapel, by Rowena P. Timm, 1974
  • Good Tidings Gospel Hall, Eightieth Anniversary, 1998, by Joyce M. Neverson
  • Letters of Interest, January 1956, p. 19; July/August 1972, p. 4; February 1980, p. 16