Religious freedom in Flushing

I recently took a walking tour of Flushing, Queens, commemorating the 350th anniversary of the Flushing Remonstrance, which is on display at the Queens Museum of Art in Flushing Meadows–Corona Park through June 29. This document, in which Flushing settlers stood up to New York Governor Peter Stuyvesant for the rights of the Quakers to worship, is an uncommonly brave and beautiful declaration; if they made lapel pins of it, I’d wear one.

The tour, sponsored by the Municipal Art Society and conducted by Jack Eichenbaum, an urban geographer and Flushing native, visits the Quaker Meeting House and walks around temples and churches of several denominations. Eichenbaum says there are about two hundred churches within a kilometer of the Main Street 7 train stop.

Many of the churches are Korean. Eichenbaum sees similarities between Korean immigrants and Eastern European Jews in that they came with a stake and goal of building a business, and they rely on networking organizations—often churches—more than other immigrants.

The first church of Flushing, and the oldest house of worship in the state, is the Flushing Quaker Meeting House, built in 1694. (It’s open to the public from noon to 12:30 p.m. on Sundays.) When you enter, you can smell its age. The main room is lined with squeaky, cushioned pews that face each other. New England–style Quakers conduct meetings without a preacher; people speak as they are moved to. Quakers were a big part of 19th-century Flushing, and they dominated business there.

The second church of Flushing is St. George’s Episcopal Church, founded in 1702; the present building, on Main Street, went up in 1854. The third is the Macedonia African Methodist Episcopal (AME), on its site since 1811; the current building dates from the late 1800s. The Catholic St. Michael’s arrived in 1833.

In the 19th century, Flushing’s churches did not come in ethnic varieties, because it wasn’t an immigrant neighborhood. Now the tour takes you past an Afghan mosque; a spectacular Buddhist temple-in-progress; dozens of Korean Presbyterian churches, with new storefronts popping up all the time; St. Paul Chong Ha-Song Catholic Church; a Sikh center across the street from Temple Gates of Prayer, Flushing’s first synagogue; and the Bowne Street Community Church, which was Dutch Reformed in 19th century but is now Taiwanese Anglican.

This tour focused on the area north of the Long Island Railroad tracks; Eichenbaum will conduct the second part of the tour, south of the tracks, on Sunday, May 18.

You don’t want to leave Flushing without having lunch; Chinese and Korean restaurants are everywhere. After the tour, we ate at 66 on Prince Street, which specializes in Taiwanese seafood. They offer Chive with Frog, Three Cups Eel, and Intestine and Pig Blood with Sour Mustard, along with many other dishes you won’t find at your local Chinese takeout spot. Our tame, ordinary orders were very good, and the rice was perfect.

One Response to “Religious freedom in Flushing”

  1. […] took the churches of Flushing tour with Jack Eichenbaum last year, and it was very […]