Volume 75, Number 42 | March 8 -14 2006

New reverend will lead return to Judson’s sanctuary

By Albert Amateau

Villager photo by Gary He
Major interior renovations have been completed at Judson Memorial Church on Washington Square South.
The Judson Memorial Church congregation, led by the newly appointed senior minister, Reverend Donna Schaper, will return on Sunday morning March 26 to the building’s sanctuary on Washington Square South after an 11-month absence during a renovation of the historic building.

A center of avant-garde arts and social protest for 40 years, Judson has completed a decade-long campaign to renew its space for the 21st century. In the latest phase of the reconstruction, the central meeting room has been made handicapped accessible and air conditioned and its sprung wood floor has been rebuilt for a new generation of dancers, actors and social activists.

Built in 1890 to a Stanford White design, the church ministered to new immigrants and provided fountains of clean drinking water when many neighborhood tenements had no indoor plumbing. In the late 1960s the congregation eliminated church pews and converted the sanctuary as a home for Judson Poets Theatre, Judson Dance Theatre and Judson Gallery, which nurtured Off Off Broadway theater, modern dance and graphic art.

“Judson’s building and its ministry are intertwined,” said Schaper. She noted that when pro-Vietnam War advocates were idolizing the flag, Judson opened its doors to a flag show that resulted in both its ministers, Reverend Howard Moody and Reverend Al Carmines, being arrested.

“We are proud to continue in the tradition of innovation, incubation and midwifery that is the Judson mission,” said Reverend Schaper.

Judson Gallery pioneered in showing the works of Claes Oldenberg and Jim Dine when other galleries rejected them. And when two homeless men were turned away from other shelters, Judson provided them a place for their advocacy group, Picture the Homeless, which now has its own space. After the war in Iraq began, organizers were invited into Judson to display protest art, including 1,000 pairs of boots and shoes symbolizing American soldiers and Iraqi civilians killed in the conflict.

Judson’s reconstruction began in the early 1990s when the terra-cotta facade and roof were restored. In 1999, the stained-glass windows of John LaFarge were restored. The following year, New York University acquired from the church the adjacent Judson House and the Poe House on W. Third St., whose facades were rebuilt and included in the new N.Y.U. School of Law building. N.Y.U. law school also provided Judson with new space where the congregation met during the reconstruction over the past 11 months.

The ceremonial return on March 26 will follow in the Judson Memorial Church arts tradition, with puppets, dance and music.

Reverend Schaper, who assumed the post of Judson’s senior minister on Jan. 15, 2006, will also be formally installed. A native of New York City, her 30-year ministry in the United Church of Christ, included posts in Tucson, Ariz.; Philadelphia; Amherst, Mass.; Riverhead, L.I.; and the Coral Gables Congregational Church near Miami where she was senior minister from 2000 to 2005.

The author of more than 20 books on a range of themes about faith, life and social justice, she was the first woman trained by Saul Alinsky, the late urban justice organizer, and she served as executive director of the Urban Academy in Chicago.

Reverend Schaper studied at the Lutheran Theological Seminary in Gettysburg, Pa., and the University of Chicago Divinity School, and has a doctorate from Hartford Theological Seminary. She is in an interfaith marriage. Her husband is Warren Goldstein, chairman of the history department at the University of Hartford, and they have two sons and a daughter, who are young adults.

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