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As American churches go, ours is a very old congregation. There are only two chuches in the state, and perhaps less than ten in the United States which have a longer history of continuous worship in their locality.
Early in 1654, groups of settlers near the present site of Borough Hall in Flatbush and here in Flatlands were sufficiently organized to lobby, with the help of the minister from the fort, the Governor to endorse their request that a minister be sent from the Netherlands. A letter was sent to Amsterdam in April, but in late summer, before a reply could be received, a shipload of refugees arrived from Brazil, where a Dutch trading post had been captured by the Portuguese. On it was Rev. Polhemus who agreed to stay and serve the people in the Long Island villages.
Although worship here began in the fall of 1654, the first church building here in Flatlands was not completed until 1663. Rev. Polhemus later joined by his family, lived in a dual purpose church and parsonage building in Flatbush. For the first 170 years of its life, the Flatlands church was a part of a collegiate system in which as many as five reformed congregations were served by a joint ministry, usually of two ministers.
Flatlands was recognized as a town in 1788, and the minister was designated as the first Supervisor, perhaps because he was one of the few who had not given his allegiance to the King during the war. By the time the Constitution was ratified in 1789, economic and social necessity had force amnesty and reconciliation.
Despite great political upheaval, however, every day life, including the operation of church and school seems to have gone on pretty much as usual; baptisms, marriages, funerals, aid of the sick and the poor, Sunday worship, and the teaching of children continued. In 1789, an iron stove was purchased to heat the school house instead of the open fireplace. In 1794, a new church building was erected. It, however, remained completely unheated until 1825.
During the War of 1812, there was great anxiety that there might be another British landing, and the local militia drilled weekly on the church grounds. The village remained basically stable, however, and when denominational statistics began to be collected in 1815, Flatlands reported a population of 525, with 12 baptisms, and 41 adults in communion. A new school building was built in 1816. Under the old system, religious education had been carried out in the common school. In 1826, the first church Sunday school was organized, but it continued to use the school building for another 30 years.
In 1838, the Reformed Church was incorporated, and the first parsonage in Flatlands was built, on near the present intersection of Avenue K and Kings Highway, for its first full time pastor. The church reported 100 adults in communion. By 1840, the population of Flatlands had grown to 800. Although slavery had been abolished in New York State in 1827, some former slaves continued to live and work as free laborers. Our landmark Greek Revival church building was constructed in 1848.
After nearly two centuries of being the church in the village, Flatlands Reformed adjusted to another congregation, when the Methodist Church was formed in 1851. At first Methodist services were held in the town school, and then a building constructed about a block south of our church. With competition not only for members, but also for the use of the school which was to be rebuilt in 1861 with two classrooms, a Sunday School Lecture Room was built in 1853, on the present site of the Activities Building. In this period, Sunday School enrollment equaled or exceeded the communicant membership, which was about 120.
The Civil War, with its terrible casualties, brought heartbreak to many families and a new benevolent challenge to churches. Sick and wounded troops received most of their care from the privately funded Sanitary Commission. Churches took special collections and held fund-raising Sanitary Fairs. In 1863 and 1864, the members of Flatlands tripled their usual giving contributing twice as much for benevolent causes as for local expenses. In 1868, the Lecture Room building was enlarged.
In 1873 the gallery was extended along the sides of the church sanctuary. Although there were now 165 members and 190 in the Sunday school, these additional pews were not needed to seat the people. The church was largely supported by pew rents, and the church needed the regular contributions of new families. Offerings were used for benevolent purposes, and usually totaled about half the amount raised for local church expense.
Lifestyle expectations raised and the ladies of the church contributed much of the money for the addition to the church building in which accompanied a furnace, a new pipe organ, and a choir loft in which the choir could sing facing the congregation. By 1905, the adult membership exceeded 260, and the Sunday School 350. A new Lecture Room was built in that year. The following year, the present parsonage was built, the opening of Avenue K having required the demolition of the former one.
In 1924 the Lecture Room was jacked up, extensions added on both ends, and a gymnasium, kitchen, and toilet facilities underneath. In the same year, Flatbush Avenue was moved a few yards west, away from the church's property, and Kings Highway greatly widened. The church grounds were re-graded to a new street level and the iron fence added in 1927. Electrification also replaced gaslight in that decade, in the parsonage in 1921 and the church in 1924. As houses rose all around, the church reported 650 members and a Church School of equal size by the end of the decade.
After World War II, the white Protestant families which had filled the congregation during the nineteen twenties, thirties and forties began their migration to the new suburbs outside the city, the congregation dwindled, and the church re-adjusted once again to a new era of service to the ever changing population of our community. Although both the active adult membership and the Church School decreased, over 500 people each week benefit from the programs and facilities of the church.
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