New York, New York
Marble Collegiate Church, formally known as Fifth Avenue Church, is one of America’s most historic churches. A remnant of the old Dutch Reformed Church, the congregation of Marble Collegiate is one of the oldest continually active in the country. In recent years it was made famous as the home church of Norman Vincent Peale, one of the most popular and influential, if controversial, ministers of the 20th century. Because of Peale, Marble Collegiate Church’s congregation grew to huge numbers, making it one of America’s proto-megachurches. It remains one of the most popular churches in New York for Protestant pilgrims.
In 1628, not too long after the formal establishment of the New Amsterdam colony, Dutch Protestants founded the Collegiate Reformed Protestant Dutch Church, a Dutch Reformed Church in the Calvinist model. This organization began establishing church buildings in the 1630s, all in communion with one another. By the mid-19th century, well after the Dutch and British were gone, a half-dozen dotted the city.
In the 1850s, with New York expanding rapidly northwards, the congregations established a magnificent new church at Fifth Avenue and 29th Sreet. This building was originally named the Fifth Avenue Collegiate Church. In 1906, the building underwent a massive renovation, and the old brick façade was replaced with marble. The church was subsequently renamed the Marble Collegiate Church.
Marble Collegiate was the first of the beautiful showpiece churches that eventually came to line Upper Fifth Avenue in the 20th century. In 1932, Marble Collegiate received a new minister, Dr. Norman Vincent Peale. Peale became an important fixture of New York’s religious scene, and by the 1940s was famous as one of America’s most popular radio ministries.
Peale left his stamp on the church, and the Reformed Church, spending more than fifty years as minister of Marble Collegiate. The church grew tenfold under his tenure, with more than 5,000 members at the time of his death. His book, “The Power of Positive Thinking”, has been both acclaimed and criticized. Over the course of the second half of the 20th century, Marble Collegiate has become an all-but-mandatory pilgrimage stop for hard-core Protestant visitors.
Marble Collegiate Church is the oldest and by far the most famous of New York’s surviving collegiate churches. Now part of the Reformed Church of America, it is the most popular Calvinist church in the city. Built in the 1850s, the church exterior has become world famous for its 1906 renovation, which included the resurfacing of the exterior of the church in brilliant white marble (hence its current name).
The church interior is both enormous and stunning. Architecturally it is one of the most unique sanctuaries in New York. The focal point of the church, the dais, is framed with a magnificent arch flanked by the pipes of a massive organ. An enormous, low-rounded balcony surrounds the sanctuary like a giant hug. The vaulted ceiling, braced by giant arced beams, looks as though it were lifted out of a medieval castle.
Marble Collegiate Church is located in the very heart of Manhattan in New York City. It is open daily for visitors. There is no cost of admission. Web: www.marblechurch.org (official website).
Manhattan remains to this day home to some of the oldest surviving Dutch churches. The most notable of these are Middle Collegiate Church, West End Collegiate Church and Fort Washington Collegiate Church. Norman Vincent Peale is buried at the Christ Church Cemetery in Pawling, approximately fifty miles north of Manhattan.