The founding pastor of Central was 22-year-old
Rev. William Patton, who graduated from
Middlebury College in 1818 and studied at the
newly-formed Princeton Theological Seminary.
Rev. Patton founded the church in January of
1821 with his wife Mary and four other people.
The church was incorporated as a New York
religious corporation on February 6, 1821.
Interest in the church increased rapidly, and over the course of its first 100 years, Central moved locations several times in response to rapid demographic changes in the City.
Park AVe Location
Growth and Development
John D. Rockefeller
Central’s current building was commissioned and funded by John D. Rockefeller, Jr.
Central’s current building was commissioned and funded by John D. Rockefeller, Jr. in 1922 as the home for Park Avenue Baptist Church. Shortly thereafter, the building proved too small for the new Park Avenue Baptist congregation, prompting Rockefeller to build Riverside Church in Morningside Heights after work on the Park Avenue building was completed.
This provided Central with the opportunity to purchase the nearly new Park Avenue church building. Central, however, was unable to take occupancy of the building until the Riverside church was completed. Thus, Central met at the Plaza Hotel during the intervening period. After closing on the Park Avenue building purchase in 1929, Central held its first service in its new home at 593 Park Avenue on Sunday, September 22, 1929, shortly before the October 1929 stock market crash.
Park Ave Baptist
Central’s current building originally housed Park Ave Baptist which moved and became the Riverside Church in 1927.
Central also originally housed the largest carillon in the world, a 53-bell instrument ordered by Mr. Rockefeller as a memorial to his mother, Laura Spelman Rockefeller. The bells were cast in 1925 by Gillett & Johnston of Croydon, England.
The carillon was eventually transferred to join the completed Riverside Church, but Central’s bell tower remains a striking feature of Park Avenue’s rich
Gillett & Johnson Factory
King George V and Queen Mary visit the bell factory of Gillett & Johnson to hear the carillon | May 1925
Bells on Park ave.
The bells being installed on Park Ave.
Period of Decline
Decline and disrepair
Despite Central’s storied history and its presence on Park Avenue, the church experienced substantial decline during the latter half of the twentieth century. By the early 2000s, the number of attendees had dwindled to a few dozen people, and the church had fallen to the brink of collapse as a result of significant theological drift and poor financial management. During this time, the building was left to fall into disrepair.
Our vision is to be a church that
experiences the transformative power of the gospel and responds in reliance upon the Holy Spirit by following Jesus Christ in his mission to make all things new at Central, in New York City, and throughout the world
Beginning in 2006, a group of committed Christians from around the city began attending Central in an attempt to turn around the failing church. Remarkably, this small group made considerable progress in their renewal efforts. Under the initial leadership of Rev. Dr. J. Howard Edington and Rev. Dr. Douglas Webster and now Senior Pastor, Rev. Jason Harris, together with Music Director, Dr. Seth Ward, the church has re-centered its focus on the historic gospel, emphasizing strong biblical teaching, robust Christian community, and inspiring Spirit-filled worship. Central has since continued to flourish, as our membership, average weekly attendance, and contributions have doubled over the last three years. During this time of renewal, our church family has grown into a culturally diverse body of more than 400 people that now includes established professionals who are leaders in their fields, a growing collection of families, and a large and dynamic body of students and young artists and professionals at the beginning of their careers.
Restoring the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the heart of Central and to our individual lives. Listen>>
Restoring the multi-ethnic, multi-generational community of God’s people to the church. Listen>>
Restoring the church’s cultural presence to catalyze and support the Christian community’s engagement with all aspects of City life. Listen>>
Restoring our physical building in order to carry out this
comprehensive plan. Listen>>