Seventy – Five Year History of
The Community Church of Little Neck
by Leslie H. Cox
Part I – Beginning of the Church
On November 20, 1925 The Community Church of Little Neck “came into being as the child of the Sunday School”. There had been a Sunday School in Little Neck since 1878, organized by a few earnest and dedicated men who, under the auspices of the “Little Neck Union Chapel Society”, maintained this Community Bible School all during the ensuing years.
By the fall of 1925 Little Neck had become a suburban instead of a farm community and the need for a church with a resident minister became evident. It was felt that, as the community Bible School had prospered, so would a Community Church organized on strictly interdenominational lines, “each denomination bringing its best to the common service to develop a church in which all might worship without surrendering any individual belief”.
For years the Sunday School and church operated as separate organizations, the use of the building being granted annually to the Church. It was not until 1931 that the Sunday School, then fifty-three years old, gave up its separate existence and became the Bible School of The Community Church.
In the 75 years since its founding the Church has had but five ministers. The first was Dr. Harold Pattison who accepted the call to Little Neck on February 1, 1926. Dr. Pattison, had recently retired from a very busy pastorate in a New York City Church, but was especially interested in The Community Church movement. His long years of experience in the ministry, his superior intellect, ready wit, and keen spiritual insight impressed all who heard him preach; and under his leadership Church membership and attendance steadily increased. After four years Dr. Pattison resigned, however, and the church was without a minister for the next twelve months.
Mr. Warren E. Darnell, was one of the young “supply preachers” sent to Little Neck by Union Theological Seminary during the summer months of 1930. Having just completed his second year in Seminary and certainly not ready in his own mind to take on the responsibility of a church, Mr. Darnell so impressed the Elders that two of their number were appointed to make further investigation, and if satisfied, to “sound him out” as to his acceptance of a call. They came back to Congregational Meeting with the most earnest and enthusiastic conviction that in spite of his youth, Mr. Darnell’s qualities were such that he would be able to offer spiritual inspiration and comfort to all, young and old alike. A unanimous call was extended and accepted. Mr. Darnell was pastor for nearly 54 years, guiding the congregation through the depression, World War II, and the postwar expansion. He led the effort to raise the money to build this church and the Manse, and presided over their construction and use. He retired in 1985 after devoting his entire career to this congregation and community. Out of great affection and esteem he was made, and continues to serve as, Pastor Emeritus to this day.
PART II – GROWTH OF THE CHURCH
After its founding on November 13, 1926, the Community Church of Little Neck continued to grow, and many names had been added to those of the 145 charter members. A Women’s Society had been formed a few weeks after the church. There was a Men’s Club, a volunteer choir, and a Christian Endeavor Society.
With the prospering of the Church, The Bible School also flourished. It was apparent that both were outgrowing their facilities and that the Little White Chapel would soon be “bursting at the seams”. However in the Great Depression (1929-1941) there was unemployment and need within the congregation; hopes for a new church had to be postponed to an indefinite tomorrow.
All the time the Church went on growing. The plight of the Bible School was even worse. Beginners were packed into the kitchen, primaries and juniors in the Chapel room, and seniors in the basement of the bank. With individual classes only a foot or two apart, the crescendo of voices striving to rise above the hubbub, and from the kitchen the joyful chant of “Jesus Loves Me” drowning out the prayers!
The Building Fund grew very slowly. During the War Years (1941-1945) though many continued to give steadily and generously, no building was yet possible.
PART III – THE NEW CHURCH
“God builds no churches. By His plan that labor has been left to
man. No spires miraculously arise, No little mission from the
skies Falls on the bleak and barren place. To be a service of
strength and grace. The humblest church demands its price. In
human toil and sacrifice. God sends no churches from the skies;
Out of our hearts they must arise.”
Rev. Darnell led us in this quotation from Edgar Guest in the Campaign Brochure of May, 1950 and we all became well aware of its truth.
Money-raising efforts for the new church had begun in earnest in 1944. That autumn the first Thanksgiving In-gathering of Gifts, which was to become an annual affair, took place in the Chapel. People faithfully contributed. Thus by 1950 the Building Fund totaled $62,000, and it seemed as though we were at last ready to commence!
The Trustees heard of a church being built in Westbury for $100,000. With the architect’s picture of a beautifully-planned Georgian Colonial Church and Bible School before us, a professionally-directed campaign for funds produced an additional $103,000. We were thrilled! The cornerstone, of white marble cut from the Green Mountain Quarries of West Rutland, Vermont, was laid on Sunday afternoon, November 20, 1950. Finally on November 18, 1951, just a year from the laying of the cornerstone, Dedication Services were held for the beautiful new church!
And so, through the goodness of God to this congregation, the generosity and sacrifice of its members, and the care and watchfulness of the architect and the Building Steering Committee, The Community Church of Little Neck now has an efficient, and beautiful church plant. Today, there is no outstanding indebtedness on the church or the manse. This church has always operated on the free-will offering of its members.
PART IV – 1955-1985
The next 30 years saw the continued phenomenal growth of the church and all its programs, paradoxically coupled with the incremental decline in membership, due to demographic changes. Children grew up and left the area, parents grew old and moved away. New residents were not Protestant or were Asians with different ethnic ties.
Rev. Darnell’s history book, “The Church that Love Built,” is filled with details of the successes of all the church organizations, but he also records the relentless decline of members over the years that mainline churches across the country faced.
After almost 54 years of dedicated service, Rev. Darnell retired in 1985.
PART V – Rev. Dr. Roger Wm. Johnson
Rev. Roger Wm. Johnson was called in May of 1985. Dr. Johnson was a mature, experienced Pastor, an intellectual with broad social interests. His wife Charlotte became our organist, and helped to strengthen our Nursery School.
In time, Roger developed health problems. Rev. Johnson resigned as of March 1990. The new search for a pastor took more than 2 years.
PART VI – REV. DR. JANET RHODES 9/92 — 1/00
Rev. Janet Rhodes was called as our fourth pastor in September, 1992. Fresh out of Union Seminary, Janet was enthusiastic, deeply spiritual, and musically talented; with an interest in innovative preaching. Rev. Rhodes was noted for: First, her spirituality, as reflected in:
prayer at all meetings and functions
bible centered preaching
Tuesday morning prayer group
Experiencing God and Parish Preaching Group
Easter dawn and Vesper Services
children in worship and communion
religious music programs
confirmation class retreats
Holy Land pilgrimage
religious services on camping trips
Second, the “key word” is food:
Pot Luck Suppers
Easter meals and Bar-B-Q’s at the manse
Fat Tuesday lunches
W.A.T.C.H. lunches at the Swan Club
Day outings with lunches or picnics
birthday cake surprise parties
Bible School breakfasts
Since January, 2000, we were engaged in a new study and search for a Pastor. Pat Mitchell was serving us as interim pastor and guide, for which we are deeply grateful.
Rev. Matthew Mardis
08/01/2002 – 08/22/2005
After the call by the Community Church of Little Neck, Mr. Mardis was ordained in the United Church of Christ. He served with distinction in Little Neck until he resigned in 2005, to relocate to Des Moines, Iowa where both he and his wife accepted pastoral calls.
08/22/2005 – 06/01/2007
While the search went on for a new pastor, a number of very capable supply ministers filled in.
REV. PAUL R. DRAKE
06/01/2007 – 04/16/2012
On 06/01/2007, a new Pastor, the Rev. Paul Drake was called and we looked forward to a new era in the life of The Community church of Little Neck. Rev. Drake was a highly experienced and gifted pastor; a strong preacher and teacher, strengthening ties with the Presbyterian Korean congregation that resides in the church. Rev. Drake and his wife, Karen, were also musically gifted, and their warmth and dedication built up the community. Rev. Drake also served as President of the International Council of Community Churches, a voluntary organization of self-governing churches committed to Christian reconciliation and unity. It was a great blow to the congregation to loose Rev. Drake to lung cancer in April, 2012.
REV. FORREST AND MOIRA AHEARNE- PARKINSON
05/2012 – to PRESENT
As. Rev. Drake was becoming increasingly ill, he made arrangements for part time pastoral assistance with the Rev. Moira Ahearne-Parkinson, an arrangement the Church Council accepted. The pulpit was filled with supply pastors until the Council made its decision. Rev. Ahearne-Parkinson, and her husband, Rev. Forrest Parkinson, became co-pastors of the Community Church of Little Neck in December, 2012. Together they bring a strong worship and pastoral presence, and experience in transition and revitalization.
Starting in 1878, the Strawberry Festival was conceived as a fundraiser for the Bible School. It grew each year as a widely attended Community activity, held both indoors and outdoors, providing musical entertainment, hot dogs, strawberries, ice cream and Chili, in addition to games pony rides, crafts, white elephants, cakes and garden plants.
PART VII – THE FUTURE
Yes, as we look back over 75 years of Church history we find much to be thankful for, much to be proud of. But no church can rest on past laurels and the challenge facing us today is especially clear and arresting. Physically and in spirit the community has changed; not only have most of the vacant lots vanished and large housing developments sprung up in outlying districts that were once woods and fields, but the composition of the population has altered. More and more people of different races and cultures are making their homes here. If we are to be a true Community Church, we must reach out to all these groups, not only accepting but warmly welcoming all who wish to join us regardless of race, or of cultural or economic background.
Neighborliness is surely akin to Godliness, and if we wish to attract community support we must strive to recapture the simple friendliness of earlier days. This Church has a mission, in a very special way, to seek out avenues of service and to spread the gospel of Christ to the whole community; each of us giving our best, all working together, to bring about the Kingdom of God in Little Neck.