Everyone is Welcome Here
WHO RENDERED DISTINGUISHED SERVICE
IN THE MASTER'S CAUSE AS MINISTERS OF
SILOAM PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH
The Unlikely Story of Jesus’ Miracle at the Pool of Siloam can be seen as a metaphor for the unique history of SILOAM overall: one of overcoming impossible odds and adversity to bear witness to a new vision for the Glory of God. These roots trace back to prior to the church’s official 1849 founding. Siloam's roots date back to 1776, the year of American Independence and the year that a slave named Jack was born in bondage in Tennessee.
Seeing his potential, Jack was bought by Presbyterian Minister Rev. Gideon Blackburn, who set him free and made sure that he received an education. As a free man, Jack took a new name, John Gloucester and followed God's calling to become a pastor. Having moved north to Philadelphia, John Gloucester won new converts while preaching and singing on the streets of the City of Brotherly Love. Eventually, through sheer persistence, he and his new recruits were able to purchase a plot of land and the First African Presbyterian Church was born.
Meanwhile, Rev. John Gloucester was dealing with a very personal battle to reunite his family in the free north. Able to finally purchase their freedom, Rev. Gloucester's wife Rhoda and children boarded a wagon headed North as the cornerstone of First African Presbyterian Church was laid in 1811.
Following in the pioneering footsteps of this giant in early American religion, all of Rev. John Gloucester's male born children were to eventually become Presbyterian ministers, founding their own churches, including Rev. James Gloucester, who with his wife/foster sister, Elizabeth, moved to Brooklyn's fertile soil, from Philadelphia and founded a religious society that was to become Siloam Presbyterian Church in 1849.
PART I: SILOAM'S BEGINNINGS
Siloam Presbyterian Church started out as a religious society, under the supervision of the New School branch of the Presbytery, at the corner of Fulton and Cranberry Streets, Established as a church in 1849, Siloam situated itself close to other prominent Baptist and African Methodist churches, both literally and figuratively. Located at 106 Pine Street, between Myrtle and Willoughby Avenues, Siloam was at the center of a hot-bed of predominantly African-American, progressive churches with outspoken pastors, in Downtown Brooklyn, and the church was to remain at this site for the next sixty years.
In terms of speaking hard truths to power and advocating for the respect and dignity of all people, Siloam Presbyterian Church was allied with other emerging African-American churches of other denominations, with black congregations that refused to be relegated to sitting in the balconies because of the color of their skin, as they had to previously at white churches. Sitting at the head of the table, Siloam's early pastors, including Rev. James Gloucester, Amos Freeman, and W. R. Lawton held up a mirror from the pulpit to the nation, revealing the hypocrisy of an American citizenry that turned a blind eye to slavery in the South and perpetuated second-class, cast-like treatment and endemic servitude on the basis of race and class in the North.
Under the early leaders, Siloam Presbyterian Church acted as a powerful agent for promoting spiritual and social progress: the first to create a special fund for the Underground Railroad pipeline that provided food and lodging for escaped slaves as they traveled North; Siloam was instrumental in generating opposition to the unjust Fugitive Slave Law; the church fostered friendships with prominent abolitionists, including Frederick Douglass, and famously, John Brown, who developed a close connection with Rev. James Gloucester and his wife Elizabeth. Brown visited Siloam Presbyterian Church on his journey to martyrdom at Harper’s Ferry in 1858 and the Gloucester’s hosted him at their home and donated $25 to his cause “to do battle with that ugly foe, slavery.”
ENGINE FOR CHANGE
In the late nineteenth century, Siloam Presbyterian Church’s Literary Union played a major role in waging the campaign against the policy of ‘Separate but equal’ public schools, pressing for school desegregation and spearheading the drive for the recruitment and appointment of qualified African-American school teachers. The church also took a leading role in galvanizing support for the passage of the 14th and 15th Amendments that granted equal protection under the law and the right to citizenship.
In 1891, Siloam secured funding to renovate its Prince Street location, but plans were forced to change due to the construction of the new Manhattan Bridge approach. The original church edifice was scheduled for demolition by the city and so Siloam needed to find a new church home. Resilient as ever, Siloam's members were undeterred by having to find a new location. With strengthened resolve, they determined to find a new home.
This dream was realized during the long tenure of Rev. George Shippen Stark and Siloam moved from Downtown, Brooklyn to its current home on the corner of Jefferson and Marcy Avenues in Central Brooklyn. The change had the added benefit of moving Siloam even closer to the growing African-American population that had been spreading into Bedford-Stuyvesant.
In the turbulent ’60s, Siloam Presbyterian Church was actively engaged in promoting civil rights, specifically the need for educational equity. Under the exemplary stewardship of Rev. Milton A. Galamison, the Head Start program, which today provides educational support to 25 million children and their families, was launched in Siloam's halls.
Siloam ushers in its 170th year on sound financial footing, under the pragmatic stewardship of Interim Pastor, Rev. Eric A. Thomas. His focus has been twofold: 1) actively seeking to modernize the church building and 2) to increase the excitement about Siloam and to encourage community engagement.