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The Church That Moved

The Community Methodist Church made quite a journey to become a fixture in the Massapequas.

In past articles we've mentioned buildings being moved from one location to another, including the and the .

Those moves were short and involved smallish wooden buildings. But what is involved in moving an entire church, and for a distance of thirty miles? That's exactly what this article will explore.

There was slow but steady growth in the Massapequas in the 1930s, but the real population explosion occurred after 1945, when returning veterans looked to purchase private homes in newly-established suburban areas. Like other suburbs, the Massapequas provided a variety of services for residents, including places to worship. The Episcopalian Church was well established in the area, because the Floyd-Jones family had built Grace Church in 1844 and the Grace Chapel in 1890 to provide places of worship for residents.

As other people with different religious affiliations moved into the area, they endeavored to have their religious needs met. The first group that appears to have faced this problem was the Methodists, whose numbers had grown to the point where they agreed on the necessity of a worship space. The Methodists could have built a church, using one of the many open spaces in the area available right after World War II, as did most other denominations.  Instead, they decided to use an existing church that had grown too small for its Presbyterian members. Note the two denominations in play here, the Methodists and the Presbyterians. The center of this story involves a skillful piece of trading  that could be used as a win-win model today. 

There were approximately 3,500 residents of the Massapequas in 1947, including about 50 Methodists who were seeking a place to hold regular worship services. They had used variously one of the Massapequa Firehouses and the local American Legion Hall as they searched for a more permanent structure. Fortunately for them, timing favored the Massapequa Methodists, because a church had become available in 1945.

In that year, the Bellport Methodist Congregation, which had outgrown its building, moved into the larger Bellport Presbyterian Church, whose members had dwindled to the point where the building could no longer be maintained. As part of the arrangement, the Brooklyn-Long Island Methodist Council gave the Presbyterians their smaller church in Brookhaven, enabling the latter to use a building more suited to their smaller numbers, while Methodists from Brookhaven could now join their Bellport brethren  in the larger church.

This swapping left a small seventy-five year old building available, and the Massapequa congregation jumped at the chance to acquire it. The only problem, of course, was distance: how does one move a church thirty miles, from Bellport to Massapequa Park? The answer became obvious very quickly - by barge, using the Great South Bay and South Oyster Bay.  Although old, the structure was considered very sturdy, so plans were drawn to float it to its new location.

The first challenge was to move the building down to the water. The church was located on a corner plot at Maple Street and Brown's Lane in Bellport. The location was about one mile from the Bay, so it was necessary to move the fifty ton building very carefully, using greased skids and literally inching it along the roadway.

The move was performed on November 5, 1947 by the Davis Engineering Company of Blue Point and took six hours, at which time the church was loaded onto two scows lashed together. Because of rough weather, the Bay part of the move was held over until November 7, on which day two tugboats owned by the South Bay Towing Company moved the scows westward to Jones Creek, which is where Burns Park is located today. The move took five hours and, while considered uneventful, was slowed when the scows ran aground on Jones Creek. There is no record of the reactions of the people involved in this move when that happened, but it doubtless caused several anxious moments. Fortunately, the tide continued to come in and the scows were freed to complete their journey.

Pictures taken at the time show a wooded and undeveloped area where the scows docked, so great care must have been exercised to place the church back on skids and move it about one mile from the water's edge up to Merrick Road and then to its current site on Park Boulevard across from Moore Avenue. The steeple had been removed and was transported separately by truck, to lighten the load on the scows and avoid any wind-related balance issues. Once the building was settled on its new foundation, the steeple was reattached and the church was ready for use. Records indicate there were 42 charter members, including Maynard Nichols, who first proposed the idea of moving Bellport's church and oversaw the entire process. The first services were conducted by Rev. Harry Robinson of the nearby Seaford Methodist Church, until a permanent pastor was named. 

Postscript: The Former Bellport Church Today:

Those who visit the Community Methodist Church may be puzzled by the site. The old church was about 30 feet by 50 feet and could accommodate 125 worshippers. Today's church is larger and accommodates close to 200 worshippers. The reason for the differences lies once again in the enormous changes that took place in the area: as the population grew, the original church became too small to accommodate the rapidly expanding congregation.

By the mid 1950s, for example, there were 300 children in the Sunday School and a larger building was needed. Members raised the funds to build a larger sanctuary in 1962, with the altar at the south end. The original church had been set on its foundation facing west to east, with the steeple at the rear facing Park Boulevard. The new structure essentially bisected the old church, although the steeple remained in place. To adapt to its needs, the congregation converted the older building into classrooms and eventually into a hall and meeting room, as it remains today.

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