Bishop Lawrence Provenzano of the Episcopal Diocese of Long Island has a track record of closing Black churches while favoring the restoration of non-Black churches. Parishioners of historic and architecturally significant St. Joseph’s Episcopal Church (built 1894) located at 99-10 217th Lane Queens Village have sounded the alarm on his latest attempt to close their church. Enough is enough!
At a press conference in front of the church on June 7th, I was joined by concerned members of the community and preservationists, including Bishop Melvin Artis, pastor of 4 local churches, urban planner and historian Paul Graziano, Richard Hellenbrecht, Vice President of Queens Civic Congress and First Vice Chair of Community Board 13 and Maureen Grey, church historian and former member of the St. Joseph's congregation.
The Episcopal Diocese is trying to close St. Joseph’s using inconsistent arguments, saying that DOB violations are making it cheaper to demolish and build a new ‘financially viable’ building. However, violations have been cleared up and outstanding penalties amount to $1,000.
The complex, dating back to 1894, is in relatively good repair and has many historic details. The architectural pedigree of the church complex is incomparable, having been designed by some of the premier architects of the late 19th and early 20th centuries:
Parfitt Brothers – Considered the top architectural firm in Brooklyn in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Hundreds of Parfitt designed buildings in Brooklyn Heights, Crown Heights North and Park Slope have been landmarked. Their firm designed the church. It is the only confirmed commission in Queens County by this firm and must be preserved.
Tuthill and Higgins – A renowned architectural firm from Jamaica. Designers of the St. Joseph’s Parsonage. Also designed the original Jamaica Hospital, Richmond Hill Branch of the Queens Public Library (one of the Carnegie Libraries) and an addition to the Reformed Church of Jamaica.
Hobart Upjohn – The grandson of Richard Upjohn (who designed Trinity Church in Manhattan). He was one of the most well-known architects for religious buildings, particularly for the Episcopal Church. He designed the parish hall.
Bishop Melvin Artis, who oversees 4 local churches, said, “I am appealing to every clergy member in the southeast Queens area: Let’s get behind the people of this church and make sure that this history remains intact.”
Urban planner and historian Paul Graziano pointed out that the Episcopal Diocese does not do this to churches in wealthier, majority white neighborhoods. “Would you see this happen in Garden City at the seat of power of the Episcopal Diocese? No. Do you see this happening in wealthy congregations in white neighborhoods? Definitely not. So, there is definitely something through the prism of ethnicity and race which is very disturbing to me because looking at how the Episcopal Church has described themselves that doesn’t really match.”
As a result of this deeply concerning situation, I have taken the step of submitting a Request for Evaluation (RFE) to the Landmarks Preservation Commission. Designation of the complex as an official NYC landmark would permanently protect the house of worship from demolition.
Please see photos of church, video of press conference and RFE application here. I'll keep the community up to date on my progress.
Candidate for City Council