The Church of the Ascension purposefully reflects on our painful history of slave ownership. The Church of the Ascension acknowledges that nine of our founding members and rector of St. Andrew’s church, who was the founding rector of record for Ascension, owned a total of 36 slaves as listed in the New York Census of 1800.
We honour the men and women who were enslaved during the dark times of our history. It is important to recognise this part of our church founding and that we stand as we are today because of the sacrifices forced upon them. We repent of our communal sins of racism and white supremacy and honour their legacy, lives, and those of their descendants in our church and all of Staten Island. We continue to seek justice for all people and affirm that Black lives are and have always been worthy of respect, dignity, and honour as God’s own children.
Our parish is able to trace its history back to 1802 when, under the auspices of the Church of St. Andrew, the mother parish in the county, and with the financial support of Trinity Church/Wall Street, Trinity Chapel in West Brighton was established to service its members on the island’s North Shore. The records show that David Moore, the fifteen-year-old son of the then rector of St Andrew’s Church, Richard Channing Moore, piled wooden planks on the back of a wagon and drove it down to a plot of land at Richmond Terrace and Alaska Street. There, with two of his father's slaves, they laid the floors of the new chapel.
The Rev. Richard Moore, then rector of St Andrew’s and later Bishop of Virginia, officiated at services at the chapel Sunday afternoons, excepting from December to April when services were held every other Sunday. In the 1850’s the Rev. Robert Travis, assistant to the Rev. David Moore, took over most of the responsibility of the chapel.
With the death of David Moore, controversy arose over who would succeed him and just what the relationship would be between the parish and its chapel. The contentiousness led to the chapel closing for three years from 1866 until May of 1869 when the Church of the Ascension became incorporated and received the deed to the property from the Church of St Andrew. Just what the controversy was remains unknown since the vestry records of St. Andrew’s for those years have been lost.
The Rev. Theodore Irving, nephew and former secretary to the author Washington Irving, who had previously served at St. Andrew’s returned to Staten Island as rector of Ascension. Irving was a scholar and would later teach at what is today known as City College of New York. Due to family obligations, he resigned in 1872, and was succeeded by the Rev. James S. Bush of San Francisco. The Rev. Bush was the great-grandfather and great-great-grandfather of former Presidents George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush.
He helped the church get on its financial feet and orchestrated paying off a debt of $12,000 and overseeing the consecration of the church in 1875. The Rev. Bush resigned in 1883 because of a disagreement over an impending raffle of a gold watch to raise money for the parish.
In the years that followed, Ascension grew and prospered under the guidance of the Rev. Pascal Harrower who served the parish for almost forty-five years. Harrower was once criticized for allowing young people to use the church facilities for dances and bowling. Some anonymous critic suggested that “...all your church needed was a bar, and it would be a first-class saloon.” Harrower replied, “...to dance among our friends is no more irreligious today than it was to dance at a marriage feast in Cana 2000 years ago.” With so long a tenure, his mark is still ingrained in the parish. He later became Canon of the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in Manhattan specializing in Religious Education issues. His ashes are currently in a specially built vault in the sanctuary of our present building.
The area around the church buildings, which also included a parish house, was becoming increasingly industrial and by the 1920’s plans were underway to relocate the church building, stone by stone, to property in West Brighton where the current church is located. These plans had to be abandoned due to the Stock Market Crash of 1929. The congregation moved into a mansion previously owned by the Van Clief family where they held services until the completion of the current building in 1949.
In 1942, with the resignation of the Rev. C. Avery Mason, who would later become the Bishop of Dallas, the parish called the Rev. Raymond Rogers of Glens Falls, NY as its rector. He lead the parish through the difficult days of World War II, strengthened Ascension Day School which served the West Brighton Community until 1956 and oversaw the building and consecration of the current church and rectory. A strong sense of spirituality grew under Father Rogers’ ministry. Eleven young men from Ascension entered the priesthood, including his two sons, Richard & Mark Rogers, and the Rev. Canon Joel Novey, who returned to Staten Island as rector of All Saints Church for 35 years. Father Rogers’ strong Anglo-Catholic practice still has resonance with the congregation, many of whom have fond memories of both him and his family.
Upon Father Rogers' death in 1968, The Rev. William Reed served the congregation by successfully leading us through the somewhat turbulent 70’s and the introduction of the “new” prayer book. It was during his tenure that the first woman was elected to the vestry and girls were allowed to serve as acolytes.
During the tenure of Father Reed the focus of ministry in the Episcopal Church shifted from the clergy to the laity. The Rev. Dr. David L. Moyer, at the time the youngest rector in the diocese, was ready for the challenge and introduced many programs, which involved lay leadership, which continue to this day. The Church of the Ascension was in the forefront of bringing the Cursillo movement to the New York Diocese. Over the next 15 years over 50 parishioners attended Cursillo weekends, returning with a renewed enthusiasm in how they could serve God. Ascension’s Vacation Bible School began in 1979 and remains a vibrant program with enthusiastic support from many parishioners. It serves as an important channel of outreach to the community.
Ascensionites were interested in Adult Education as well, and Christian film series with discussion groups were presented. Bibles appeared in our pews and parishioners were encouraged to attend Bible Study- another practice that continues to the present day. Ascension also continued the encouragement of young men to the priesthood by sponsoring several seminarians during their preparation. The Rt. Rev. William M. Klusmeyer, Bishop of West Virginia was a seminarian at Ascension during this time & the Rev. David Taylor also served as a seminarian and became our next rector in 1985.
Ascension’s reputation as a place of hospitality and fellowship blossomed during the early 1980’s. Coffee Hour became an important time for fellowship and meeting. Parish dinners and Supper Clubs also became a means to know our fellow parishioners and newcomers on a deeper level. Two very important events occurred during this time that set the tone for Ascension in terms of Outreach and Fellowship.
In 1980, the Outreach Committee sponsored a young Polish family to the United States. They had a two year old son and came with just their clothing. The Outreach Committee found and paid for an apartment for them and members of the parish furnished it, top to bottom, and provided food. Kristof and Barbara spoke very little English so a parishioner served as a translator for them until they were able to get along. The Committee also found Kristof a job and we welcomed them into our congregation. Eventually they were able to purchase their own home and Kristof started his own painting business.
The second event occurred in 1983. St. Paul’s Episcopal Church on Staten Island suffered a devastating fire. A committee was formed with representatives from the 10 Episcopal churches on Staten Island to hold a benefit concert for them. When the Vestry considered what Ascension’s contribution to the fund would be, they voted to donate $20,000 to St. Paul’s. In addition, a dinner of fellowship with the parishioners of St. Paul’s was held at Ascension with members of both parishes sharing tables and God’s love.
Ascension’s dedication to Outreach and fellowship continued through the tenure of our next three rectors.
Fr. David Taylor, who had been an English professor before entering the priesthood, was very interested in education and established the Fr. David L. Taylor Scholarship Fund to help assist Ascension’s college students with tuition and expenses. The fund helped a number of our young parishioners for about 15 years. Father Taylor is buried in the Columbarium on the south side of Ascension.
Rev. John D. Alexander came to Ascension in 1995. Many of the programs established in the 1980’s continued, with the addition of a Singles Group, the Friends of Ascension (a newsletter to former members & friends of the parish) and the Ministry to Lakeside Manor, a local adult home. This ministry was initiated by parishioner, Novella Lawrence, who followed the call and became a Deacon in the church. Ascension also celebrated the 50th Anniversary of our present church building in 1999. Another major milestone during Fr. Alexander’s tenure was the acquisition of 16 Benedict Ave, next to the church rectory. While the property has been used for rental income to the present, the thought at the time was that it might be used as the rectory in the future, with the present rectory becoming a parish hall.
In 2002, The Rev. F.M. “Buddy” Stallings joined Ascension as our 15th rector. He brought a Southern charm and hospitality along with a heightened interest in children’s Christian education. Our Sunday School was the first on Staten Island to introduce Godly Play and continues using that curriculum to engage our youngest learners. Shortly after Father Buddy’s arrival in 2002, we celebrated the 200th Anniversary of Ascension as a worshipping community with a special Eucharist and banquet. The Rt. Rev Richard F. Grein, Bishop of New York, was celebrant and homilist.
During Father Buddy’s tenure, renovations to the Sanctuary and sacristy were made. Additional improvements also included the installation of a sound system and air conditioning in the church. As a result of his supportive leadership, our Outreach programs thrived. In addition to monetary donations to the Episcopal Relief and Development for Hurricane Katrina, parishioners traveled to Louisiana to assist in the construction efforts. A “Giving Tree”, where parishioners provide gifts for battered women and their children at a local shelter, has become a part of our Christmas tradition.
Fr. Richard Marchand began his service to Church of the Ascension on May 1, 2010 as its 16th Rector. He was a native of Seattle, Washington, and had spent many years in the high-tech industry in California and Washington State. He was ordained a priest in 2008 and was the second Associate from St. Matthew and St. Timothy’s to be called to serve Ascension as its Rector! The first was Fr. David Taylor, who had served at St. Matthew and St. Timothy under long-term Rector Fr. Jay Gordon.
Under Fr Richard the Safe Church program was instituted. Fr Richard had a great love of animals and a feeling for their place in our spiritual lives – he brought Rocky the Church Dog to us – and celebrated the Blessing of the Animals annually sometimes in the church and on the church lawn, and sometimes in the park across the street from the church. Fr. Richard left Staten Island in 2016 to return to the West Coast due to health issues.
Ascension is an open and welcoming parish that values the traditions of the past and desires to carry them forward to the future.