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04/12/13 8:00am
04/12/2013 8:00 AM

KATHARINE SCHROEDER PHOTO | With parishoners Mary Ann Musumeci of Middle Island (left) and Rita Allen of Jamesport, Pastor Dianne Rodriguez lights altar candles during First Parish Chruch’s first service at Grange Hall.

First Parish Church in Northville is getting a new lease on life thanks to a new tenant dedicated to preserving the building’s rich history.

On Sunday, April 7, Community Baptist Church began holding services at the 109-year-old church. The congregation finalized a lease agreement last week with United Church of Christ, which owns and maintains First Parish Church, located at the corner of Church Lane and Sound Avenue.

Dwindling membership and finances almost caused First Parish to shut its doors for good.

The lease agreement gives the small UCC parish the freedom to hold services without the financial burden. The UCC congregation now meets at Grange Hall, another historic First Parish-owned building, directly across Sound Avenue.

KATHARINE SCHROEDER PHOTO | The outside of First Parish Church in Northville.

Community Baptist Church Pastor Joshua Fryman called the lease agreement a blessing. He described the two-year-old congregation as an independent group unaffiliated with any religious organization. Before renting First Parish Church, Community Baptist didn’t have a house of worship to call its own. Instead, members gathered for services in the basement of Polish Hall in Riverhead and later moved their Sunday services to Grace Episcopal Church in Riverhead.

“I told our folks we really needed to pray for a building because I don’t want to be the nomadic Baptist church.” Pastor Fryman said. “I want to find a place to put our roots down. Most of our folks come from the North Fork, so it’s been a blessing.”

One of the features that drew Pastor Fryman to the church is the building’s dynamic history. First Parish Church dates back to 1829, when the parishioners of Old Steeple Church in Aquebogue split from that congregation after deciding it did not follow the Bible’s teachings closely enough. From that, the Strict Congregational Church was born. It held services at Grange Hall until 1831, when the first church building was constructed.

The church was rebuilt twice due to fire. In 1877, a disgruntled former minister burned the building to the ground, according to Riverhead historian Richard Wines. It was destroyed by fire again in 1901, when the church steeple was struck by lightning.

With the support of wealthy local farmers and other parishioners, the current church was completed in 1904. The building was modeled after the Cleveland design plan, which was popular in the 1900s and emphasized asymmetry, Mr. Wines said. Decorated with richly colored stained glass and oak pews, the church boasts one of the oldest working organs on Long Island. The Hook & Hook organ is one of two in working condition on the North Fork, Mr. Wines said. The other is at Orient United Methodist Church.

Up until 1957, the church was known as Sound Avenue Congregational Church. At that time Protestants seeking spiritual and political freedom divided branches of Christ’s church, resulting in the formation of United Church of Christ.

While the UCC started strong in Northville with more than 50 members, parishioners have slowly trailed off, according to First Parish Pastor Dianne Rodriguez. The farmers who once helped finance the church have dispersed, Mr. Wines said, leaving the church without its core following. Pastor Rodriguez says the UCC in Northville has about 15 parishioners.

But the congregation will still have a presence in the iconic church, the pastor said. Community Baptist Church has agreed to allow First Parish to hold special events there, such as weddings.

Community Baptist Church will hold a community day Sunday, May 5, at 11 a.m. to introduce the church and building to the public.

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10/31/10 8:46pm
10/31/2010 8:46 PM

TIM GANNON PHOTO Rev. Charles Coverdale (center) speaks to the Riverhead Town Board Thursday.

First Baptist Church of Riverhead is proposing construction of 132 apartments and a Family Community Life Center that will provide athletic facilities, day care and senior care space on acreage surrounding its church building on Northville Turnpike.

The church has been proposing such a facility, on and off, for more than 20 years.

“When we did a study, we found that the greatest needs in this town are for a recreational center and for workforce housing,” said the Rev. Charles Coverdale, the church’s pastor for the past 28 years, told the Riverhead Town Board at a public work session last week.

“He hit it right on the nose when he said the biggest need for the town is a recreation center,” said Councilman George Gabrielsen. “I’ve been driving for that for years. This is a win-win for the town.”

The project needs a hookup to the town’s sewer district and changes in zoning to allow the various uses over the 12 acres.

The town has considered creating a zone for life-care centers, and has created Planned Development Districts in the past that allow for a variety of uses on one property.

Rev. Coverdale said the church owns all of the land and plans to retain control of the apartments, which would be mostly rentals aimed at providing workforce housing.

The proposed apartments would be located north of the church in six new buildings, three of 21,600 square feet each and three of almost 16,000 square feet each. The three larger buildings would have a total of 75 units and the three smaller ones a total of 57 units.

The proposed three-story, 60,400-square-foot Community Life Center building would have an indoor basketball court and gymnasium, an indoor track, a fitness room, lockers, a performing arts center, a six-lane indoor swimming pool and space for classrooms, administrative offices, child care and computers, according to the proposal.

The plan also calls for three 2,000-square-foot professional office buildings on the southern portion of the property, and a 2,800-square-foot storage building.

The proposed office buildings would extend as far south as the intersection of Northville Turnpike and Middle Road, while the proposed apartments would back off Northville Turnpike, but would abut part of Midway Drive, according to drawings presented to the Town Board last Thursday.

“I love it,” Supervisor Sean Walter said. “I’m tired of talking about it. Let’s get it done.”

Councilwoman Jodi Giglio said her main concern is how the project would be taxed, given the church’s nonprofit status.

Mr. Walter said state law would determine that.

While a nonprofit organization would be exempt from paying taxes, Ms. Giglio asked if the group would be willing to make a payment in lieu of taxes.

Cleveland Johnson Jr., executive vice president of a company called Strategic Fundraising Inc., which is working with the church on the project, said afterward that if a payment in lieu of taxes is required by the town, they will find a way to fold that cost into the budget.

Mr. Johnson said it’s too early to estimate the overall cost of the project, but he said it will be paid for largely through fundraising and grants.

Mr. Walter asked the Rev. Coverdale to present the town with a proposed zoning he feels would accommodate all of the mixed uses proposed in the project.

He said the town may also want to create a zoning district for facilities such as this. He noted that Timothy Hill Ranch and Little Flower Children’s Services also do not fit into existing zoning categories.

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This post was originally published Oct. 21, 2010