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Asking the Clergy: What is the spiritual benefit of worshipping in a building rich with history?

The Very Rev. Dr. Michael Sniffen of Cathedral

The Very Rev. Dr. Michael Sniffen of Cathedral of the Incarnation, the Rev. Henrietta Scott Fullard of Long Island District, African Methodist Episcopal Churches, and the Rev. Louis Nicholas of Greek Orthodox Church of the Assumption. Credit: Joe Pellicone; African Methodist Episcopal Churches; Louis Nicholas

Long Island’s architectural heritage includes many houses of worship still hosting weekly services more than 100 years after they were built. This week’s clergy discuss how attending services in these historic sanctuaries enriches the worship experience.

The Rev. Henrietta Scott Fullard

Presiding elder (retired), Long Island District, African Methodist Episcopal Churches

A historic church carries with it many significant connections to generations past. It reminds people of their heritage and how that has impacted their families, friends and loved ones down through the years.

The A.M.E. church was founded in 1787 in a blacksmith shop by a founding generation that came out of slavery. The movement arrived on Long Island in the ensuing years, and there are currently 21 A.M.E churches here including Bethel A.M.E in Huntington, Bethel A.M.E. in Setauket and Bethel A.M.E. in Westbury — all congregations founded in the 19th century.

The early African Methodist Episcopal Church was based upon direct spirituality with a God that we believe in deeply and feel honored to worship. We still worship the God that the founding A.M.E. father’s spirits, hearts, minds and souls followed in the Bible. The generations of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob were told by God to pass down their heritage to generations to come and teach them to remember that heritage.

If you can recall stories told by your grandparents about sitting in the sanctuaries of these churches, it gives you a personal spiritual closeness to the church rather than sitting there like a stranger.

The Rev. Louis Nicholas

Pastor, Greek Orthodox Church of the Assumption, Port Jefferson

In the late 10th century, Prince Vladimir of Kyiv, Ukraine, sent emissaries all over the world to find a new religion. His emissaries entered Hagia Sophia in Constantinople and reported, "We were led into a place where they serve their God, and we did not know where we were, on heaven or on earth."

When you walk into the Greek Orthodox Church of the Assumption in Port Jefferson, although our current building is only 20 years old, you are walking into history. The architecture and style are a continuation of tradition that spans more than 1,500 years, transporting the faithful back in time. The vast open space of the nave gives the worshipper the feeling of eternity. The dome seems as if it is suspended in midair 80 feet above the ground. Painted inside the dome is the image of Jesus Christ looking down from heaven on the faithful. In addition, there are many images of the saints painted on the walls in the ancient Byzantine style.

Everything in our church, including the worship service, itself remains mostly unaltered from the ancient church.

The Very Rev. Michael T. Sniffen

Dean, Cathedral of the Incarnation, Garden City

Historic buildings have the power to evoke connections within and between us across generations. Sacred spaces are designed to support prayer and worship and to instill religious virtues. These buildings help connect us to our holiest stories and our histories.

At the Cathedral of the Incarnation in Garden City, a grand Gothic monument, the bells in the tower were cast in Philadelphia in 1876 as the National Centennial Bells. Today, as worshippers, wedding couples, mourners, visitors and neighbors encounter the building, they are hearing the same bells that rang out at the close of World War I and World War II; the same bells that have marked tragedies and celebrations on Long Island for nearly 150 years. There is an intangible spiritual benefit in this experience. We become aware of who and where we are in the unfolding story of God we know as life. Prayer exists in the context of human experience, community, history and geography.

When we cross the threshold of long-standing sacred spaces to pray and worship, we find that we are not alone. We are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses and the living God is there to give us strength for a new day.

DO YOU HAVE QUESTIONS you’d like Newsday to ask the clergy? Email them to LILife@newsday.com.

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