The Christian Society called “Methodists” was founded in 1729 in England at Oxford University by John Wesley, a clergyman of the Church of England. In 1776, Methodists were established in the City of New York through the efforts of Phillip Embury, a lay preacher from Ireland. Originally considered a part of the Church of England, the Methodist movement established autonomy in 1784, shortly after the Revolutionary War, and became the first religious body in America to form an independent organization.
After the Civil War, Methodist consolidated the position of their ministry in the city near the geographical center of Manhattan following the formation, in 1881, of a new society, incorporated as the Madison Avenue Methodist Episcopal Church. This Society built and occupied a new French-Romanesque edifice, located at 60th Street, dedicated in 1883. Neighborhood constituents of the East Side had leapt uptown from lower Manhattan as the city’s population steadily trended northward. The families who established the Madison Avenue Church came mostly from churches located at 23rd Street.
Fifty years later, they merged with the 61st Street Church, a church of humble beginnings. First, it was a City Sunday School Society meeting in a hall over Dingledeins 3rd Avenue lager-beer saloon in 1863 before building a small frame church in 1866. The union of this church with the Madison Avenue congregation was confirmed in 1933, resulting in the dedication of Christ Church.
Dr. Ralph W. Sockman, the pastor who brought about the union of the constituent churches and guided the building of the Byzantine edifice of Christ Church voiced that:
“In this day of interdenominationalism and church union, we desire to serve in no narrow denominational sense. The new church will be a place of worship for all people of all communions. Our congregation numbers many who are not members of the Methodist Church, and my personal hope is to make the constituency steadily broader and more inclusive.”
So it is that the marble and mosaic splendor of Christ Church speaks of a time when the church was one. That spirit of unity is reflected in the Church’s mission statement, “We seek to love God above all things and our neighbors as ourselves,” which echoes the words of Jesus when he summarized the commandments: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” These statements are found inscribed within the apse mosaics.
The task of inscribing these words upon human hearts has formed the essential focus of the ministry of Christ Church from its founding and still points the way for the future of this dynamic congregation.
Tours of the sanctuary are offered the second Sunday of each month, following the 11:00 a.m. worship service. “Christ Church is an achievement of living faith. Those who worship here find a sanctuary of beauty, a spiritual home, a place of fellowship and a center of Christian education.” It is for this reason that you are invited to tour our sacred space.
We are often asked about the uniqueness of the space, the mosaics and icons, and the symbolism. By touring the space, you will gain a deeper understanding of its history, its art and architecture, the theology it expresses, and how it can become a space of spiritual pilgrimage and devotion. The tour begins in the pews just in front of the pulpit. You may also call the church office to inquire about the possibility of group tours at other times.