The story of what is now Church @ the Rock began in the homes of ardent believers who were connected to the newly-organized Methodist Protestant denomination. Gradually their homes became too small for all who wanted to attend the Sunday gatherings. In 1839 a meeting was held by a group of local Canarsie residents wherein a local church was organized and a conscription was started to construct a building. Eventually enough money was raised and the building of the church was begun on land on the corner of Church Lane and East 92nd Street that had been donated by John (“Old Squire”) and Catherine Remsen. On September 21, 1841, the church was registered as the Methodist Protestant Church of Canarsie.
Completed in 1840, the church was a small building that was a “good sized” room with some wooden benches, a small table and chair for the speaker, and candles hung in little tin cans around the walls to give light at night. In 1842 the church called the Rev. Dickerman to be its pastor. In May of that year, the first sermon was preached by the first pastor to the packed church, and “the Spirit of God seemed to move among the people.”
Rev. Dickerman pastored the church until 1847, succeeded by other pastors through the years. The little church continued to grow; after several decades another building was needed, and a new church was built on the same site, after the first little church had been moved. The new church was built by Rev. Hulsart and dedicated on January 15, 1871.
In 1870 the church was incorporated as “The First Methodist Church of Canarsie.” Through the years, a long succession of godly men pastored the church. One of them, Rev. Henry S. Hull, came as pastor in 1875, after having served in the infantry of the Civil War, the first of three tenures he would have at the church.
During Rev. Hull’s second tenure from 1892 to 1898, the church was moved and yet another church was built on the same site as the previous church (which then became a Fellowship Hall and Sunday School area). The new church was attached to the older building and the roof was raised to accommodate this attachment. Dedicated on February 3, 1895, with stained glass windows, a tall steeple, belfry, and electric lights, it was categorized as “one of the largest and finest Methodist Protestant churches in the state of New York.” The name of the church had been changed in 1894 to “First Methodist Protestant Church of Canarsie.” In 1898, Canarsie became part of the Borough of Brooklyn.
Whether the tenure was short or long, each of the many pastors had an impactful imprint on the church’s life for the time he was there. The longest-serving pastor, Rev. Clifford Kidd, had a strategically significant impact on the church during his thirty-nine year tenure from 1913 until his death in 1952. He played an integral role in the direction the church would take, and under his leadership the church left the Methodist Protestant denomination and was established as an independent, non-denominational church, holding fast to the tenets of Scripture. On May 22, 1940, the church’s name was again changed to “Grace Protestant Church of Brooklyn, New York.”
The succession of pastors continued in the second half of the 20th century, including Rev. Peter Watt who served for eighteen years. After a difficult time of several more pastors, the church was without a pastor for four years from early 1985 – 1989. Attendance dwindled drastically during this time.
In 1989, Rev. Kenneth Griepp accepted the call to lead the church, preaching his first message as pastor on Palm Sunday. It was the 150th year of the church, and an anniversary celebration had already been in the planning process. Immediately on his arrival it became apparent that major structural repair and renovation to the now ninety-four year old church building was necessary, and within the ensuing six months, constant and pressured work through the spring and summer months was carried out as the deadline of the 150th Anniversary loomed. On September 24, 1989, the 150th Anniversary of the church was celebrated in the repaired and completely renovated sanctuary.
The next ten years saw intense demographic change in Canarsie, and the church reflected that change. Today, Church @ the Rock is a thriving, multicultural community, where many people from diverse backgrounds worship together.
Since 1989, many more improvements to the church building have been made, and more property has been purchased. More importantly, hundreds of people have put their trust in Jesus.
On September 8, 2019 the church celebrated its 180th Anniversary in the morning worship services, followed by a full course luncheon for all. The past thirty years had seen much change and God had given much growth.
Prior to 1839, no church existed in Canarsie. From the humble beginnings of the little church then, with its wooden benches for seating and tin cans holding candles for lighting, to the large church which stands in its place today – replete with its tall steeple, stained-glass windows, comfortable seating and adjacent buildings and parking lots – the Gospel to be told to every person so that they have the opportunity to repent, receive the gift of salvation from Jesus Christ and spend eternity with Him has not changed.
Tens of thousands of people have walked through the doors of this church over the past 180 years. Thousands have received the Savior and proclaimed the message of salvation by faith alone through grace alone in Jesus Christ. They have loved, served, worked, given, ministered to each other, borne each other’s burdens and have been the local Body of Christ led by the shepherds whom God sent, each in His time. Today, the local body of believers in Canarsie known as Church @ the Rock is a strong, vibrant community of believers who continue on and who love and serve in various outreaches throughout the year. Looking to the future, their desire is to build on the amazing heritage, praying that many more generations faithfully proclaim the message of the Gospel.
From the Methodist Protestant Church of Canarsie, to more recently Grace Church and now Church @ the Rock…from Rev. Frederick Dickerman in 1842 to Rev. Kenneth Griepp today…the heartbeat of the church has always been to lead people to Jesus Christ so that His light shines through them in Canarsie and beyond.