Old First Reformed Church, a national historic landmark in Park Slope, is reopening with a public concert on Sunday, nearly eight years after the sanctuary ceiling collapsed.
The congregation was forced to move into the Sunday school area, and a second congregation relying on its sanctuary, Beth Elohim, lost space for its services.
"It was overwhelming," said Jenn Cribbs, a parishioner since 2008. "There was a lot of fear around what it meant for our congregation, for the building. We felt very, very small in the face of it."
For years, the church used the sanctuary to store meals for the superstorm Sandy relief effort and beds for homeless men. But the church, nicknamed Old First, grew inspired to revive the refuge when members noticed people from the respite shelter praying and meditating in the space.
“We had to think about what the right thing was to do,” said the Rev. Daniel Meeter, pastor of Old First since 2011. “In a time where there is poverty on the street … should we be spending our time and money on a building? Is that what Jesus would want?”
Meeter said the 729 Carroll St. church realized it did not have to choose between serving the poor and revitalizing the refuge.
"It was making a beautiful space that welcomes everyone," Meeter said of the ongoing, $10 million restoration project funded by donations from parishioners, gifts from local residents and Beth Elohim.
After holding services in the sanctuary this Easter, the congregation will showcase walls fresh from grime removal as well as a repaired coffered ceiling and 212-foot-high limestone spire this Sunday. Performances by bluegrass musicians Michael Daves and Friends, Brooklyn author Rick Moody, the String Orchestra of Brooklyn and the Amy Winehouse Teen Jazz Ensemble will mark the first time the church flings open its beaten-wood doors on Seventh Avenue since the ceiling crumbled eight years ago.
The next phase of the work will continue with repairing the church’s exterior walls, chandeliers, Tiffany & Co stained glass windows and the 1891-era Roosevelt pipe organ. The final stage will renovate and incorporate ADA features in the bathrooms and classrooms inside one of the borough’s oldest congregations.
Founded by Peter Stuyvesant in 1654, Old First was the only church in what was then a geographically smaller Brooklyn until the American Revolution, according to Meeter.