House of worship has storied history in town of Stewart Manor
St. James Lutheran Church held its first service on Ash Wednesday, March 2, 1927, in a home at 62 Salisbury Ave., with only twelve people in attendance. Now 85 years later, the church has grown and resides at its permanent location since 1939 on Chester Avenue and Elton Road.
As of 1996, Pastor John S. McKenzie has been the fourth standing pastor of the church. Despite the long history, the church has only had a total of four pastors, beginning with Pastor Morecraft during its opening in 1929.
“Only four pastors have served throughout the church’s history,” said McKenzie. “Longevity seems to be something that happens here.”
Pastor Morecraft resided in the upstairs portion of the church during its opening and services were held downstairs. The garage of the house where services were held housed the first Stewart Manor Fire Department truck and alarm. In 1946, the church purchased the home again but sold it back in 1963.
On October 2, 1927, the church baptized its first member, Ernest George Hoelle. This first year also saw the church’s first Christmas service, which 25 people were in attendance for and its first wedding on January 28, 1928 when Anna Legman married Jack Schwartz of Manhattan.
During Pastor Morecraft’s time, membership began to grow with the forming of the church Sunday School, Ladies Guild and Men’s Club. Sunday School started with five children and by 1928 they had 26.
Pastor Morecraft was also there for the purchase of the church’s first organ and legendary church choir, which could always be heard singing by citizens in Stewart Manor, whether during church rehearsals or when they were out caroling.
Other groundbreaking moments for the church during the first pastor’s time were the dedication of the new building located at its current location in 1940 and the new church’s dedication in 1953, where the altar, lectern, communion rail and chancel chairs were all put in and still stand there today.
On April 18, 1955, after serving the church for 27 years, Pastor Morecraft was called to his eternal home and was replaced by Pastor Dietrich, who came from Redeemer Lutheran Church in Syracuse, NY.
The church continued to grow under the new pastor’s leadership and the church began to think about adding to the parish hall and building a new parsonage. Both the parish hall and the new parsonage were dedicated on Sept. 8, 1963. Landscaping, glass windows and other improvements were made through the years to improve the look of the church.
By June of 1971, after 15 years of serving this congregation, Pastor Dietrich retired from active ministry and relocated to Florida. Pastor Helmke took over from another church and began his service to St. James in 1972.
Every Sunday, Pastor Helmke was known to sing with the choir, and held regular confirmation classes along with two services and a Bible class. The third pastor of the church also conducted many outreach sessions in the community as he walked through the neighborhood. In addition to these ministries, Pastor Helmke also served as the chaplain for the Stewart Manor Fire Department during his tenure.
After 24 years, Pastor Helmke accepted another opportunity at Redeemer Lutheran Church in Hicksville and in September 1996, current Pastor McKenzie began his time as pastor at St. James Lutheran Church of Stewart Manor.
“I started as a six month interim,” said McKenzie “Then they extended my time here and then they extended it again.”
After two years Pastor McKenzie accepted the position as interim without terminus. In addition to his work at St.James, he also serves as pastor of the Advent Evangelical Lutheran Church in Elmont.
Despite his shared ministry position, Pastor McKenzie was still able to get people involved immediately. He quickly got people involved as lay readers and the volunteer ushers became involved in serving congregation.
“The people here treat each other with tender loving care,” said McKenzie. “They are very supportive to one another as problems come along.”
Pastor McKenzie also instituted Communion every Sunday, along with weekly coffee hours following the 9 a.m. service. The fourth and now standing pastor also got a small Sunday School program started with a number of volunteers. The Vacation Bible School also takes place during the summer and was started with volunteers. Enrollment is near 100 most years and the church has life and activities going almost daily.
Now in its 85th year, the church averages around 60 members in worship every Sunday. The church has also enjoyed annual activities such as a St. Patrick’s Day luncheon, “soup suppers” prior to Lenten services and a Summer Barbeque.
“This church is a source of stability for many of its members,” said McKenzie.
For those looking to join St. James Lutheran Community Church, their number is 516-352-4099 and the church is located on 116 Elton Rd. in Stewart Manor.