Forest Hills Church Goes Retro to Celebrate Centennial

By Nigel Chiwaya on October 23, 2012 9:11am 

FOREST HILLS — Station Square was transported back to 1912 Sunday, as neighborhood churchgoers dressed in vintage garb to celebrate the house of worship's 100th anniversary.

The Church in the Gardens, a Christian community church on Ascan Avenue, celebrated its centennial on Oct. 21 with an outdoor service that featured several nods to the church's early 20th century beginning.

Dressed in period garb, the members of the church led a service that was literally straight out of the 1900s; the order of service, hymns and prayers were based on archival program information from 1918, the earliest information the church had on record.

"We're trying to make people feel like they're experiencing an old-fashioned service, but at the same time the thoughts are modern, contemporary," said the Rev. Noel Vanek, who wore linen preaching bands and a top hat. "And of course we're here to have fun, give God thanks for the hundred years and pray for one hundred more."

The Church in the Gardens held its first ceremony on Oct. 13, 1912, in front of a store on Dartmouth Street and Continental Avenue. It then moved into its current location on Ascan Avenue in 1914, after philanthropist Olivia Slocum Sage donated money for construction.

A century later, the church was back in Station Square, just feet away from Dartmouth Street, holding a service that shut down the eastbound lane of Station Square and caused curious onlookers to stop and stare as they passed by.

"There's a lot of excitement," said Kay Finch, a Kew Gardens resident who has been attending the church for 21 years. "The temperature's just right for this and the whole community is invited."

One churchgoer, Peter Schultheis, made the trek all the way from Staten Island for the ceremony. Schultheis, dressed in an up-turned collar with a top hat, said that he wasn't going to miss the church's anniversary celebration.

"I've attended the Church in the Gardens. I have a lot of friends here. I know Rev. Vanek very well, so I figured I'd come on down," said Schultheis, 54.

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