Wearing hard hats and wielding shovels, they waited until the pastor signaled for the groundbreaking to begin. And after a few shuffles of damp earth, many of them decided to go play in it.
These children accompanied the few dozen adults who marked Thursday the beginning of construction of their new church, Christ Presbyterian. The chapel will be built as an addition to the church’s current study center, the restored historic Wayland Cottage at 135 Whitney Ave.
Located between Yale’s human resources building and the offices of Planned Parenthood, the enlarged complex will finally provide worship space for local members of the Presbyterian Church in America, who have been using the Yale Divinity School’s Marquand Chapel up to now.
But Marquand will be undergoing renovations soon, so the new chapel will be coming at a good time, according to Elise Billings, a church member in charge of its publicity.
The chapel will also help to serve a growing congregation, one which had 10 members in 1992 but now has a regular Sunday attendance of 200. Members are drawn from both the Yale community and outside the city to the only congregation representing the Presbyterian Church in America denomination in the Greater New Haven area.
In addition to worship services, the addition will house the offices of Hope for New Haven, a cooperative ministry of other local churches, such as nearby St. John’s and Trinity, that will offer services like tutoring, mentoring, counseling and child care. Church leaders expect the construction to be completed by the end of the year.
Preston Graham Jr., Christ Presbyterian’s pastor, began the groundbreaking ceremony with a few words early Thursday evening.
“We are not a pretentious people,” Graham said. “We do believe in grace.”
Graham went on to discuss future church initiatives in front of more than a dozen families, students and elders. These initiatives included starting a black congregation in Dixwell and a Latino church in Fair Haven.
After Graham, David Sweet, a minister from St. John’s Church, spoke briefly about Hope for New Haven.
George Levesque, dean of Berkeley College and an elder with the Christ Presbyterian Church, offered a prayer at the groundbreaking.
The church expansion was particularly welcome among the congregation’s Yale members. Hsing-Ay Kellogg MUS ’01 was especially gratified that the chapel was finally going to be built, given that planning for it had been going on for a long time.
“To have this facility in downtown means so much to our involvement in the community,” Kellogg said.
Graham expressed how important the fact was that the church was expanding so close to downtown.
“We love the city, and we love Yale,” he said during the ceremony.
Levesque, however, felt that the church’s local feel was its strongest draw.
“Something the church does not want to be is simply a Yale church,” Levesque said. “Students like it because it is not a Yale church.”
Paul Pozzi, the senior architect for the firm that designed the chapel, said that by incorporating the historic cottage into the church’s design, the project would ensure the original structure’s survival.
“I was worried that some day, some developer would come and tear it down,” Pozzi said.