A Brief History of The Village Church

January 1, 2017

The history of The Village Church goes back to the mid‑1980s, when a few leaders in the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) prayerfully began to plan for a new church in Manhattan ‑ a church that would be the beginning of a network of churches throughout the New York metropolitan area. The Reverend Terry Gyger, then head of Mission to North America (MNA, the home missions agency of the PCA), asked the Reverend Dr. Timothy Keller, a theology professor at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, to take the post. He eventually agreed and began Redeemer Presbyterian Church of Manhattan.

Dr. Keller asked Scot Sherman, one of his former students from Westminster, to come and be a part of the church‑planting team. Scot was soon ordained and, as an Associate Minister, oversaw the worship and teaching ministries of the church. (He also wasted no time in meeting and marrying one of the new parishioners!) In January of 1994, the session of Redeemer asked Scot and his wife, Catherine, to lead one of the first daughter‑churches to be started out of Redeemer ‑ a church to be planted in Greenwich Village.

The Village Church began as a series of prayer meetings at Redeemer Church in the Summer of 1994. Later in the Fall, afternoon services were held at Redeemer for those interested in being part of the new church. The first Sunday morning worship service in the Village took place in January of 1995 in the auditorium of the Greenwich Village Public School #41, on W. 11th St. and 6th Avenue.

It is difficult to think of any place where Christianity is more unpopular than in Greenwich Village. In the words of The Village Voice, “Christianity is screamingly uncool.” But many of the people who live here have never actually taken a serious look at genuine Christianity or experienced its power and freedom. They may have had negative experiences with Christians or with organized religion, but have they really engaged Jesus Christ? The Village Church was the kind of church that enabled people who were spiritually curious, or even skeptical, to take a serious look at the unique claims of Jesus Christ and experience the power of His Holy Spirit. We were a bridging community of worship.

The church was organized as a self‑governing congregation of the PCA in November of 1996. The congregation elected several elders to govern the church along with the pastor. The following year, 8 men and 7 women began developing ministries of mercy in the church. In this brief history, The Village Church excelled in ministry to artists and creative professionals. Ron Koustas led in ministry to the AIDS-afflicted. The church was honored by Christianity Today magazine in their November, 2000 issue: One Hundred Things the Church is Doing Right.

But the church had to go through many changes since those beginning days. In 1998, four years after setting the church on an initial trajectory, Scot Sherman answered a call by Intown Church in Atlanta, GA. A search committee spent a year and a half prayerfully reviewing candidates to replace him and in April of 2000, called the Reverend Clyde L. Godwin from Christ Community Church in Franklin, TN. Clyde and his family moved to the city that August, marking a new season for The Village Church.

Clyde brought a significant and sensitive ministry to the congregation. After enduring a variety of adventurous meeting places, Clyde obtained an agreement to worship at the 150-year old Manhattan Seventh Day Adventist Church on West 11th Street. The church looked back to see God faithfully sustaining the community and also looked forward with great excitement to see what God would accomplish in the future.

In May of 2002, Pastor Clyde answered a dire call to become the Executive Director of World Harvest Mission. In doing this, he was answering an important need, but his departure left the future of The Village Church in uncertainty. It was through this sad turn of events, however, that the Village Church received its long-term pastor, Sam Andreades. In October of 2002, by nearly unanimous vote, the church called Sam to be its pastor, a former street musician and long-time admirer of urban ministry. Sam began serving immediately in NYC and was able to move his family up the following June, 2003: his wife Marika and their four children, Thaddaeus, Jeremy, Veronica, and Enoch.

Sam led a renewal in the original vision of The Village Church, making it a place of living against the grid. He committed to living in Greenwich Village, through fire and famine. He encouraged the congregation in developing an outward face to its church life, with outdoor services, arts evenings, and cultural engagement sermons. He guided the congregation through the support of three nearby church plants in his first two years. And he enacted a new structure and ethos of leadership training. During this time International Arts Movement thrived under the leadership of Village Church elder Mako Fujimura. Then, on March 1, 2009, Sam brought the church one step deeper into the Village. In the middle of the service, he led the congregation (literally, with a shepherd’s crook!) to a new worship space: the historic John Melser Charette Elementary School, a.k.a. P.S.3.

This location was special since members of the Village Church had both attended and taught at P.S.3. Our monthly Parents’ Night Out program offered a night out by providing free babysitting by trained church volunteers. The children were led in an evening of artistic crafts and creative play, and delivered happily exhausted to the better-rested parents at the end of their date. The people of our church gave up their Friday nights simply to serve the needs of parents, for free, because Jesus Christ gave freely to us.

One time we sat down and figured out how much money we were giving away. In just over a five year period (2004-2008), our church, though small, gave away over $120,000 to various charities. Many of these charities were local, such as the Aaron Diamond AIDS Research Center, Greenwich Village Block Association, International Arts Movement, and St. Vincent’s Hospital Chelsea Village Shut-In Program. Our mercy network cared for AIDS patients, fed homeless, helped service Washington Square Park, and connected needy Villagers to financial, counseling, and educational services for ten-plus years.

We began Higher Ground (originally called G.A.M.E.) as a response to the needs of our community. Because of Greenwich Village’s diversity, we found many with unwanted same-sex attraction. These individuals did not wish to define themselves as gay and no amount of cultural affirmation changed their minds. They came to us because few would support them in their own decisions of self-determination. But we walked with them.

A few more years of serving that neighborhood went on, until New York City made a policy of kicking churches out of public schools. After tuning the school’s piano to say good-bye, and throwing a party to give thanks for being excluded because of our association with the Son of Man (Luke 6:22), the church made a pilgrimage to its last place of worship, the historic Greenwich House on Barrow Street, a community center for over 100 years. Along the way of this journey, The Village Church made some history in the Village.

In these 18 years, we gave shelter to a great many people who wanted what they knew not and had nowhere else to turn.  With orthodox innovation and some, well, crazy experiments, we periodically pulled back the cloak of malaise so often shrouding our eyes from the real point of things. And we showed Greenwich Village a little of what it was meant to be.

So what was the Village Church? It was a hearty hail to Christ, the Ultimate Non-conformist. It was a serious witness to Greenwich Village of what it is missing. And it was a full-bodied enactment of Romans 12:2—“Be ye not conformed to this world but be ye transformed…”

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