OUR STORY

In 1897 St. Peter’s Evangelical Lutheran Church began in a home on Shepherd Avenue. Immigrant German families were moving out to this new suburb and wanted to start a congregation. They worshiped exclusively in German.

In 1902, the congregation had organized to the extent that they purchased land and built a church at 94-98 Hale Avenue. Soon after, their founding pastor, Rev. Dr. Arthur Brunn arrived. He remained until his death in 1949, and by God’s grace built one of the very strong Lutheran congregations in New York City. Dr. Brunn also served for thirteen years as the President of the Atlantic District, and as a Vice-President of The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod. The church was at its membership peak throughout this period, receiving many members by transfer, through immigration, and from the neighborhood. English and German services were both held. He was ably assisted by Pr. Graesser, who later also served as Atlantic District President, and by Rev. Louis Mayer, who served as New Jersey District Mission Executive for many years.

Pastor Robert Riedel succeeded Dr. Brunn, and brought a gift for choral direction, supervising an area-wide Bach choir. He later served as President of the New England District, LCMS. He was the last pastor who preached in both German and English.

Pastor George Kraus arrived in the early 1960s as the neighborhood faced transition from its historic German/Italian heritage. He and strong lay leaders (Tramm, Schurmann, Bernt, and others) determined to remain in Cypress Hills, and to forge the trail toward future mission in Brooklyn from the historic home base. They built a new sanctuary directly behind the original church at 105-109 Highland Place. It was dedicated in 1967, complete with the transfer of the stained glass windows to the new building, plus modern stained glass. The former sanctuary became the Parish Hall.

In the early 1970s the neighborhood transition began in earnest. After a productive interim pastorate served by Rev. Carlos Hernandez, who later became a national mission executive in the LCMS, Rev. David Benke was called to be Pastor of St. Peter’s.

Pastor Benke and wife Judy arrived in 1975. They had moved to New York in 1973, when they taught in Lutheran schools (Martin Luther High School and Grace Lutheran in Astoria). That same year, the congregation determined to begin a Pre-School. Judy Benke became the first school teacher and director, with a class of five students.

Meanwhile, the church began to face the emerging community with an array of neighborhood, family and children’s programs. By the early 1980s full summer Vacation Bible School, Spanish services and outreach, and relationships with the wider church brought major change to the worshiping congregation at St. Peter’s. Elders Paul Freno, Gerald Holder, Gil Ramirez and Abdul Aziz Gafur were visible signs of the congregation’s diverse membership and desire.

St. Peter’s was also an early participant in the East Brooklyn Churches organization. In late 1981, a meeting with national Missouri Synod leaders in St. Peter’s undercroft brought commitment for a one million dollar interest-free loan that spurred on the Nehemiah Plan, which has eventuated in over 4000 single family homes in Brooklyn, including elder Gerald Holder’s home. Pastor Benke received his Doctor of Ministry degree from New York Theological Seminary in 1983, with a thesis on the carrying out of the Nehemiah Plan.

Pastor Ricardo Schuller arrived in the early 1980s as Associate Pastor for Spanish ministry, and assisted that mission in growing by God’s grace from 1982-1984.

In 1991, Pastor Benke was elected as President/Bishop of the Atlantic District of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod. He and Judy left the parsonage on Norwood Avenue for Queens.

Within a year Pastor Derek A. Taylor was installed as the congregation’s shepherd. With wife Julie, Pastor Taylor impacted the lives of every parishioner with joy and energy. He remained at St. Peter’s until 1997, when he accepted a position at Concordia College, Bronxville.

At the same time in the early 90s, St. Peter’s Pre-School needed a new leader. A trusted assistant teacher was chosen for the position, which involved high responsibility with tuition-paying parents, the City of New York and the continuation of strong early childhood education. The selection for that position was Clara DelValle, a congregant since 1984. She has remained the durable force for early childhood education at St. Peter’s Pre-School ever since! From its highest enrollment of 140 children from age 3 to 8, the school has since 2012 become a provider of full-day Universal Pre-Kindergarten for 83 students, plus those who arrive early or stay after school. Clara has assembled a quality staff of durable service, with most capable administrative associate Jackie Hernandez in the office.

During the time of seeking a new pastor in the late 90s, Dr. Benke was filling in. In a rare event for District Presidents in recent Missouri Synod history, he returned to his parish call at St. Peter’s in addition to the Presidential duties in 1998. He retained both roles until his retirement from the District President/Bishop position in 2015.

The most wrenching period during Pastor Benke’s return to St. Peter’s occurred after the events of September 11, 2001, when he was accused of committing the heresy of syncretism and the sin of unionism by praying at Yankee Stadium on September 23, a civic event commissioned and organized by Mayor Rudy Giuliani. The accusations developed into formal charges and eventually led to his suspension from the ordained roster of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod. He could not serve as the District President/Bishop during this time, but by rule was permitted to continue as Pastor at St. Peter’s while his case was in appeal. This led to rallies and events at St. Peter’s and around the country, including the formation of the concept “It’s OK to Pray,” which has always been a hallmark of the ministry of God’s people at St. Peter’s.

While Pastor Benke was under suspicion and in suspension, which ended in the lifting of the suspension in spring, 2003, and for the duration of his terms as District President, supporting spiritual leadership was critical for St. Peter’s. Two important avenues were taken:

  1. Immigrant workers in process of becoming pastors in the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod became part of the St. Peter’s team. Rev. Jimmy Lalljie, Rev. Desmond Sukdheo, Rev. Sung Woo Leem and Rev. James Roy were all of inestimable value in providing spiritual support to the congregation and its pastor. Rev. Lalljie eventually founded Bethany Mission which has now merged with Trinity Lutheran Church in New Hyde Park, New York. Pastor Des is now the shepherd at St. John Lutheran in College Point. Pastor Leem has served as a pastor in two congregations on Long Island. And Pastor Roy, who initiated a Bengali mission in the area, remains the mission leader to Bengalis, with headquarters at United Bengali Lutheran in Woodside.
  2. Deacons and elders were trained and put in service for many spiritual endeavors in the church. Sick and shut-in visitation, first communion classes, confirmation classes, and ministries to youth and children all became the focus of deacon and elder service under Pastor Benke’s supervision.
    The Chanderdatt family has a long history at St. Peter’s. When Janice Seussaran began attending the church, she brought her recently arrived (from Guyana, SA) mother Iris Chanderdatt, to services. Iris became a congregational deacon and strong light of Jesus to many. Her son Henry was appointed as an elder after her death, and brings the message of the Gospel often when Pastor is not available.
    Clara DelValle, a constant presence in the building and a bilingual English/Spanish prayer warrior, was appointed elder and invites neighborhood and school families to a life in Christ.
    The Atlantic District Deacon Training and Certification program has been of great assistance to St. Peter’s as half a dozen District-Commissioned deacons have been formed and placed in service over the years. Congregational President Sonia Holder, again from a prominent St. Peter’s family led by Elder Emeritus Gerald Holder, was the first to complete the Deacon formation.
    Nancy Rickert, a convert from Judaism, after receiving her baptism, determined to complete the Atlantic District Deacon training, did so, and served the Lord with joy and gladness until her death in 2012. Jose Pinedo-Whatts has brought bilingual mission and ministry to the fore in his service as an Atlantic District Deacon at St. Peter’s, with an emphasis on community outreach.
    Providencia De Jesus-Colon was commissioned as a Deacon at St. Peter’s, and has carried her diaconal duties to Eastern Pennsylvania, where she now resides.
    David Chanderdatt, following in the family tradition, brings a steadfast faith in action to his service subsequent to his commissioning as an Atlantic District Deacon, with a fervency for stewardship in his other capacity as financial secretary of the congregation.
    Steven Rein, whose aunt Gail was a stalwart for decades at St. Peter’s, returned to his home congregation with mom June, and serves in multiple ministry capacities as an Atlantic District commissioned deacon. Yvonne Sansarran is a congregational deacon at St. Peter’s. Her leadership as Secretary of the Choir, as Usher, as Prayer Group leader and as Co-Chair of Women of God on the Move bring an outstanding spirituality to all congregational endeavors.

    Finally, in the last year two men have taken up the call to service in study for the Ordained Pastoral Ministry. Henry Chanderdatt is a first year Vicar in the Ethnic Institute for Immigrant Theology. Courses are mostly online, but headquarters are at Concordia Seminary, St. Louis. Jose Pinedo Whatts is a first year Vicar in the Center for Hispanic Studies, again with mostly online course, but headquartered at Concordia Seminary, St. Louis. The men are avid in sharing the Good News and energetic in engaging the world with the Gospel of Hope.

Moving forward into the 21 st century, the desire of all members of St. Peter’s and its Pastor is to present Jesus as the center of life together, as received in the Word, in the Sacraments, and in the consoling love of the Body of Christ. The story continues to unfold!

LOCATIONS

105 Highland Place, Brooklyn, New York 11208
Tel: 718-647-1007
Email: info@spbklyn.org

© 2019 St. Peter's Evangelical Lutheran Church and School. All Rights Reserved

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