Riverside Church
The Riverside Church in the City of New York is an interdenominational ( American Baptist and United Church of Christ), interracial, international congregation in New York City, famous not only for its elaborate Gothic architecture—which includes the world's largest tuned carillon bell—but also as a center for the promotion of progressive causes. It is located in Harlem between Riverside Drive and Claremont Avenue and between 120th Street and 122nd Street. The tallest church in the United States and the 26th tallest in the world, it was described by The New York Times in 2008 as "a stronghold of activism and political debate throughout its 75-year history ... influential on the nation’s religious and political landscapes." The church received New York City Landmark status in 2000. Icelandic artist Björk performed an exclusive and intimate concert at Riverside Church in 2002 promoting her album Vespertine.

At the beginning of the twentieth century, Christian churches in New York City and their members were in debate over the future of their faith. Some preached a fundamentalist interpretation, made famous previously by thinkers such as William Jennings Bryan, who believed in a strict interpretation and enforcement of the Bible. Others, however, disagreed, and believed that for religion to succeed it must take what they regarded as a more modern approach and become actively involved in the world, following the example of Jesus as social revolutionary. In 1922, the congregation of the Park Avenue Baptist Church, with the major financial support of John D. Rockefeller, Jr., a member of the church, and its modernist Baptist pastor Harry Emerson Fosdick, decided to create a large, cathedral-like church dedicated to these values in New York City. This church was to be built around three main principles advocated by Rockefeller and Fosdick: a church in an interdenominational setting, a large church in a neighborhood important to the city, and a church open to all who profess faith in Christ. Based on these requirements, land was purchased by Rockefeller and construction was completed in 1930. Modeled after Chartres Cathedral in France, Riverside Church remains not only an important landmark for tourists, but also an important center for lively political discussion. Past speakers at the pulpit have included Martin Luther King, Jr. voicing opposition to the Vietnam War, Nelson Mandela on his first visit to the United States after being released from prison, Fidel Castro during one of his rare visits to the U.S. in 1999 , and Secretary-General of the United Nations Kofi Annan after the September 11, 2001 attacks. In recognition of the quality of its architecture and the church's important social role, it was designated a New York City Landmark in 2000. Its congregation includes more than 40 national, ethnic and other groups. As of 2007, the church had a $14 million annual operating budget and a paid staff of 130.

The 2,400–member church adopted a mission statement in 1992 proclaiming: "... the worship of God, known in Jesus, the Christ, through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit ... to serve God through word and witness, to treat all human beings as sisters and brothers; and to foster responsible stewardship of God's creation ... The church pledges itself to education, reflection, and action for peace and justice and the realization of the vision of the heavenly banquet where all are loved and blessed."

Harry Emerson Fosdick, who was ordained a Baptist minister in 1903 at the Madison Avenue Baptist Church, was the most prominent liberal Baptist minister of the early 20th Century. Fosdick served as Riverside's first senior minister, 1930–46, and established an openness to diversity and strong progressive policy. Fosdick's brother, Raymond B. Fosdick, served as president of the Rockefeller Foundation from 1936 to 1948. Successive senior ministers have been:
  • Robert J. McCracken, 1947–67.
  • Ernest T. Campbell, 1968–1976,
  • William Sloane Coffin, 1977–87.
  • James A. Forbes Jr., 1989–2007, was heralded by Newsweek magazine as one of the twelve most effective English-language preachers, and called one of the best black pastors by Ebony magazine. Forbes was proclaimed Distinguished Senior Minister Emeritus upon his retirement.
  • Brad R. Braxton became Riverside's sixth Senior Minister in 2008. Braxton graduated from the University of Virginia and was then a Rhodes scholar at Oxford. On June 29, 2009 he submitted his letter of resignation. As of 2010, the church is searching for its next senior minister.

The church was designed by the firm of Allen, Pelton and Collens. Henry C. Pelton and Charles Collens were commissioned by Rockefeller to travel across Spain and France to find inspiration for their project. They took for their model of the nave the 13th century Gothic Chartres Cathedral, France. For the massive single bell tower that dwarfs the rest of the church, they modeled one of the towers at Laon, but here with a base 100 feet square, and built on a steel frame the equivalent of a 22-story building (392 feet) . Inlaid on the floor is a labyrinth similar to those at Chartres and elsewhere. The church was begun in 1927 and, following delays caused by a spectacular fire in the wooden scaffolding, held its first service at the main altar on October 5, 1930. The exterior buttressing is purely decorative, for the structure is supported on its steel frame, and its weight would not be sufficient to counter the weight of the vault. The writers of the WPA Guide to New York City (1939) noted "Their smallness has the effect of making the building itself seem smaller than it is, so that its scale is scarcely impressive, even when seen at close range." The west-facing main entrance, in the base of the tower, is based on the Porte Royale of Chartres, with the seated figure of Christ in the tympanum, flanked by the symbols of the Evangelists. The figures sculpted in the concentric arches of the doorway represent leading personalities of religion and philosophy, joined by great scientists. The nave has a seating capacity of 2,100. The tower houses a carillon that John D. Rockefeller Jr. donated in memory of his mother, Laura Spelman Rockefeller. It was installed from 1925 with additional bells later. Its final complement of 74 bronze bells (at the time the largest carillon of bells in the world—see also Kirk in the Hills) includes the 20-ton bourdon, the largest tuned bell in the world. The church was conceived as a complex social services center from the outset, with meeting rooms and classrooms, a daycare center, a kindergarten, library, auditorium and gym.

The original chancel and gallery organs for the Riverside Church were built by Hook and Hastings of Boston when the church was opened in 1930. A new five-manual Aeolian-Skinner chancel console was built in 1948, followed by that firm's new chancel organ in 1953-54, retaining some of the original pipework but replacing some gallery pipework. In 1964, a new Aeolian-Skinner organ was installed in the second gallery, and all pipes were revoiced. During 1966-67, Anthony A. Bufano built a new five-manual console; at the same time, Gilbert F. Adams made major tonal revisions, including the addition of the Positiv, new pipework in the Bombarde, complete new principal choruses in the Great and Swell, chorus reeds in the Great, revoiced reeds in the Swell, Solo, and Choir, and other new flues. A rebuilt four-manual Austin console was installed in the gallery. Bufano gave the Trompeta Majestatis, built by Möller and voiced by Adolph Zajic, in memory of his mother in 1978. The Grand Chorus division was added two years later (1980), and a complete new principal chorus was installed in the chancel Pedal. In 1994, a Solid State Logic multi-level combination action was installed and the console was completely rewired. In summer 1995, the dry acoustics were improved when 10 coats of sealant were applied to the ceiling. During 1995-96, organ curator Robert Pearson supervised the complete cleaning, tuning, and revoicing of the organ to suit the new acoustical environment. . The organ is the 14th largest in the world. The Interim Director of Music and organist is Christopher Johnson. Past organists at the Riverside Church include Virgil Fox (1946–1965), Frederick Swann (1957–1982), John Walker (1979–1992), and Timothy Smith (1992–2008). Several recordings of the organ and Riverside Choir have been released. The church offers a popular summer organ concert series on Tuesday nights in July.

In the Riverside Church hang three paintings by Heinrich Hofmann which were purchased by John D. Rockefeller, Jr.: Christ in the Temple (1871), Christ and the Young Rich Man (1889), and Christ in Gethsemane (1890).

Carvings and artwork

Building Activity

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