Since 1912, the people of Broadway Presbyterian Church have worshipped God at the corner of Broadway and 114th Street. In the last century, BPC has become a vibrant and inclusive community of welcome. Throughout the week, hundreds of people come here seeking food, medical care, and shelter; our Nursery School prepares children for a life of learning; our student group explores the challenges and joys of faith in the context of our times; and the list goes on.
The story begins back in December of 1822, when a young pastor proposed to the Presbytery of New York City that he begin a "Sabbath School" on the "edge of the wilderness" known today as Greenwich Village. Under his leadership, the church began with 10 members who directed their energies towards reforming the "saloon-sodden neighborhood where the recalcitrant residents were found reduced by intemperance to beggary, wretchedness, and death." By 1825, the congregation was formally chartered as the Bleecker Street Presbyterian Church.
In the 1850s, the congregation made its first move uptown, to Fourth Avenue and 22nd Street, becoming the Fourth Avenue Presbyterian Church. There, in the 1860s, the church came under the leadership of Rev. Dr. Howard Crosby. Dr. Crosby was a dynamic presence, not only in the church, but in the City and the denomination. (Indeed, Crosby Street, in Lower Manhattan, continues to bear his name.) At one point, Dr. Crosby’s “Society for the Prevention of Crime” managed to suspend the sale of alcohol in all city saloons. From 1870-1881, Dr. Crosby also served as Chancellor to New York University. Dr. Crosby would eventually become a primary opponent of Dr. Charles Briggs, a professor at Union Theological Seminary. Crosby espoused a belief in the “complete verbal inspiration and inerrancy of the Scriptures,” while Prof. Briggs taught that Scripture must be studied and understood in the light of its historical context. After Briggs was (sadly) convicted of heresy by the General Assembly, Union broke away from the Presbyterian Church and became the independent institution it is today.
In 1910, the Fourth Avenue congregation purchased the property at 114th Street, and two years later the cornerstone was laid for what would become the Broadway Presbyterian Church. The first worship service in our current building was held on November 10, 1912. During this time, the fundamentalist season of the church continued – most notably in the pastorate of Rev. Dr. Walter Buchanan, who served from 1899-1934. This was the time of the “Fundamentalist/Modernist Controversy” and Buchanan drew a very hard line. Continuing the tradition of disputes with neighboring organizations – Dr. Buchanan stirred up charges against Rev. Dr. Harry Emerson Fosdick, then the pastor of the First Presbyterian Church – at 5th Avenue and 12th Street. Fosdick, who preached against the so-called “fundamentals” was effectively forced to resign by the General Assembly. (The Rockefeller family would support Fosdick however, building the Riverside Church to become his new pulpit uptown, only blocks from his one-time antagonist.)
On through the 1960s, Broadway maintained a more conservative point of view. During the demonstrations of 1968, BPC opened its doors to the Columbia community, and a season of transformation began. In 1974, Broadway called its first female clergy person – the Rev. Abigail Evans, who served as Associate Minister for University Work. Many new ministries were born, including what was then called the 'Broadway Presbyterian Cooperative Nursery School.'
Steadily, the congregation began to turn its attention to issues of social justice. In 1982, the church opened its doors in collaboration with students from Union Seminary and Columbia University, initiating the Community Lunch Program. In the early 1990s, the program would take a new life as Broadway Community, which continues to provide food, shelter, education, enrichment, medical care, showers, clothing, and much more to the homeless and poor of our community.
The Rev. Carl Rosenblum became pastor in 1983, and helped to guide the church into a season of growth and energy. In 1994, Rosenblum came out of the closet as a self-affirming gay man. The church was shaken – as some members were deeply troubled by this news and chose to leave the church. Others supported the pastor. The Session (the council of church leaders) voted to affirm his pastorate at the time, but by 1998 the time came to seek a new pastor. The church entered an interim season. In 2000, Rev. Walter Tennyson was called. Tennyson helped guide the church forward, continuing to deepen its sense of progressive engagement with theology and the world. He remained through 2007, departing to become a chaplain at Rhodes College in Tennessee. From 2007 – 2011, the church functioned under the leadership of an Interim Pastor, Rev. Krystin Granberg.
In May of 2011, the church voted to call Rev. Chris Shelton as its Fourteenth Pastor. Today, after such an extraordinary history -- BPC is a progressive community that welcomes all people regardless of ethnic heritage, national origin, age, gender, marital status, sexual orientation, or socio-economic standing. Though we may read the Bible with different eyes than our ancestors, we continue to believe that it is the foundation of our faith. Guided by the Spirit, our encounter with Scripture calls us to be people of justice, loving-kindness, humility, and joy in all that we do. We are a part of “the Church reformed, always reforming” – and we look forward to all the ways God will continue to lead the Broadway Presbyterian Church.