If you'd like to hear from some of our CPC New Haven Alumni, please watch this video slideshow of what they shared during our 25th Anniversary! Use the controls in the bottom left hand corner and play each video individually.
Our CPC Story
It all began in the summer of 1991 when three young families and a graduate student at Yale (Wilhelm's, Bogue's, Burtis's and Rasmic Gregorian) scheduled a ferry ride from Bridgeport, CT to Port Jefferson, NY. Their purpose was to meet up with several church planters and pastors from the Presbyterian Church in America (Tim Keller, Skip Ryan and Charlie Drew) to discuss a possible church plant in New Haven.
Meanwhile, recent Gordon Conwell Seminary graduate Preston Graham was scheduled to visit New Haven in order to locate sufficient housing for his family while a graduate student in American Religious History at Yale. Having been introduced to one of the families prior to coming, Preston was invited to join them in their providential ferry ride to "Port Jeff." After about a three hour conversation on Long Island, and while dreaming and scheming together on the return trip back from Port Jeff, Preston accepted an invitation from the small contingency to lead a Bible Study while at Yale until such time as the group could locate a church planter.
During the ’91-’92 academic year, the group was joined by a few others (about 8 in all) and met every Thursday evening in the Westville area of New Haven. As the year progressed, the group began to discern a vision for a church in New Haven that would blend together a progressive, gospel-centered and missional-oriented emphasis ("High Gospel") coupled with a classically defined confessional, sacramental and communal-oriented emphasis ("High Church) in church planting. And the conviction for such a church in New Haven escalated.
Even as the group grew in their conviction for a high gospel, high church presence of Christ in New Haven, Preston was invited to preach a final candidacy sermon at a congregation in his hometown of Atlanta, Georgia. His sermon text on Matthew's great commission (Mt. 28) was met with great enthusiasm, especially by a man who just happened to be a senior undergraduate and acting president of the Intervarsity Fellowship at Yale. Immediately after the sermon, the student greeted Preston with both the perceived need for "such a church in New Haven as you describe" along with a challenge to consider planting a church in downtown New Haven rather than accept a pastoral position in Atlanta. As Preston tells it, and contrary to all previous planning and expectations, "the voice of God could not have been more clear and compelling" (the human mind plans the way, but the Lord directs the steps. Prov.16:9).
What then is commonly called a core group (or launch team) development phase in church planting was completed, if humanly speaking, unintended -- a church conceived!
After spending the summer raising needed funds to cover a total first year budget of $73,000, Preston was ordained and commissioned in September of 1992 by then Northeast Presbytery of the PCA as an evangelist to plant a church in New Haven under the supervision of a church in distant Nashua, New Hampshire. Meanwhile, with a vision to build a church like an oak tree vs. a mushroom plant, all the members of the launch team (about 8 in all initially) agreed to a year long study in confessional theology while serving as a leadership team for the mission church. After much discussion, a name for the church was prayerfully discerned as "Christ Presbyterian Church" under the inspiration of Colossians 1:18, "that Christ might have first place in everything."
Soon afterwards, on October 11,1992 at 9:30 am, the “mission” stage of church planting was initiated with a first worship service held at the Amity Regional Junior High in Orange, CT. It was of no small inconvenience that the worship room was a small, windowless choir room with chairs suitable for junior high students! The sermon text that morning was Matthew 28 coupled with Christ's promise "I will build my church" (Mt 16). In attendance were 28 people, children and adults combined (more children than adults). Envisioned as a "quiet launch," there was initially no advertisement of the service other than by word of mouth. But the church began to grow, if slowly.
During this first year, the expositional sermons were from Ephesians. Meanwhile, the launch team continued to meet during the week for study and leadership, even as most were involved in teaching children Sunday School that met after worship while the adults participated in the novel, at the time, practice of sermon discussions. Within the first four months, the congregation grew to about 22 adults (college, graduate and young professionals) and 26 children members.
A high gospel, high church congregation was born!
In two years, and after completing a sermon series through the book of Jonah with an emphasis upon God’s love for “the city,” the congregation agreed to begin transitioning to downtown New Haven. On August 1, 1994 a study center and church office was leased at 383 Orange St. consisting of a library/prayer room, a meeting room, a pastor's study, and an office for then seminarian apprentice George Levesque. On August 28, 1994, Sunday worship was relocated nearby at the Neighborhood Music School located at 100 Audubon Street. November 6, 1994 at 4:00 PM, there was a special service of "organization" whereby church planter-evangelist Preston Graham was installed as the pastor and Cliff Bogue, Robert Hawkes and George Levesque were ordained as ruling elders. Also during this time, family groups were established - one in Orange, one in Westville, and one in Guilford.
By God's grace, the 1994-1995 years were characterized by many wonderful evidences of spiritual power and transformation. Between the months of September 1994 and August 1995, there were 7 professions of faith together with many signs of growing spiritual maturity in the members. Of particular importance was a growing commitment to family worship in families. By the end of August 1995, the membership had grown to 77 and the weekly worship attendance was averaging 140. As previously committed to planting a first church prior to purchasing a building, by God's grace in the following year, plans were laid with Yale Divinity Student and CPC intern, Mel Sensenig, toward planting a CPC daughter church in downtown Providence, R.I. This was initiated in 1997.
As the church grew and its commitment to New Haven increased, on September 5, 1997, Christ Presbyterian Church became the 4th owner of 135 Whitney Avenue with its 1850 Gothic Revival Cottage for the price of $400,000. As designed by Architect Jackson Downing and featured in his The Architecture of Country House (1850) under the title “A Symmetrical Cottage Design # 7,” Downing described the cottage as combining “the beautiful with the good” as commissioned by Esra Reid, President of the Bank of New Haven, for his aging parents. (c.f. picture in church parlor). In 1922, the cottage was sold to its second owner, Father Riggs, the first Catholic chaplain at Yale and founder of St. Thomas Moore Chapel (c.f. alcove outside the Sr. Pastor office where the patron saint would have most likely stood. For a short biography of Father Riggs including a delightful description of his use of the "Gate House" cottage, c.f. "Father Riggs of Yale by Stephen Schmalhofer, The New Criterion, March 24, 2021). In 1958, the cottage was sold to Dr. Jack McGrail and converted to a Dentist office and drug store (in the basement), later to be converted into law offices for rent when CPC pursued purchasing it as it's study center and potential property for the building of a modest Sanctuary.
Involving both the sweat and financial equity of CPC members and friends, CPC immediately initiated a much needed renovation project on the cottage involving a restoration to its original design. Due to outgrowing the Neighborhood Music School, the church moved its worship service to the Marquand Chapel at the Yale Divinity School the summer of 1998. In 1999, the church hired an associate pastor of college ministry to assist in ministry with Yale students especially. And in 2000, the church hired a part time Music and Worship Arts coordinator, Dan Kellogg, toward developing greater participation and excellence in Sacred Music.
Meanwhile, momentum and enthusiasm grew along with the need to acquire a permanent worship facility. As the congregation had grown to approximately 200 people, the church established an ambitious three part strategy to
- Establish a Reformed University Ministry at Yale, an affiliated ministry with the PCA denomination committed to Christian discipleship from a gospel driven and reformed perspective,
- Establish Hope For New Haven, a separate faith-based, non-profit subsidiary organization of CPC as a collaborative project with other like minded churches in New Haven for the purpose of bringing the hope of Christ to the “outward” needs of our city through a child care program and counseling center.
- Initiate a 3.5 million dollar building project to renovate the basement of the existing study center for additional programming space, and to design and build a multi-story facility of about 10,000 sq. feet to house a worship facility, a day care facility and additional classroom space upstairs.
In April of 2001, after two years of legal, political, financial and architectural preparations, there was groundbreaking at 135 Whitney Avenue! But not without some high drama involving both the approval of the city building commission by a 1 vote margin, and the miraculous and last minute anonymous gift at the time of $850k to complete financing. After a year of building, the city granted CPC a temporary certificate of occupancy in April of 2002 for the adjoining sanctuary and fellowship hall just in time for a first worship service on Easter Sunday. The sanctuary was not yet carpeted or painted, but it was consecrated by the sacred temple presence of Christ wherein it could be said that “Christ filled all in all” (Eph 1:23).
After several years of being saddled by an enormous financial burden preventing CPC from proactively expressing its church planting DNA, a vision was established to seek God's power in paying down the mortgage. In God's mercy, without any "campaign" other than to make the need known to members and friends, the 3.5 million mortgage was paid in full. A "burning of the mortgage" ceremony was had, together with the excitement of planting churches again. This was initiated by the hire of Rev. David Hutchinson in planting a daughter church in Danbury, CT.
During this time, CPC was being led to distinguish its missional identity and theological vision for planting under the title "Total Christ" as summarized by the "Five Marks" of a Total Christ church as an essential element of Christ's ascension ministry - and thus the conception "Mission Anabaino" (I am ascending, c.f. anabaino.org). It was also felt that the same God who could miraculously raise up 3.5 million to pay down a mortgage could just as well raise the same for the exclusive vision of planting churches, both locally in Southern CT and globally. With the strategic plan of "10-10-10" (ten local churches and ten global churches in ten years), a campaign was begun. In less than two years, and again with no campaign other than to make the need known and prayer, God granted CPC its goal.
As of the Spring of 2017, Mission Anabaino is inspiring a multiplying momentum for both an engagement in theological collaboration in missional ecclesiology and church planting. At present, Mission Anabaino consists of five local church plants, 12 global church plants with 3 anchor churches including CPC New Haven. The congregation at 135 Whitney Ave. continues to flourish, albeit having to engage the increasing challenge, and opportunities, of the post-Christian, and yet post-secular, context of our postmodern city.
The Continuing Church
The great 18th century Congregationalist pastor, scholar and revivalist Jonathan Edwards once wrote to a friend that "the Presbyterian way has ever appeared to me most agreeable to the word of God and the reason and nature of things."* At the time, it is probable that Edwards never would have imagined a high gospel and high church “Presbyterian” congregation in Congregationalist saturated New Haven right across the street from his alma mater. Perhaps even more ironic, the Puritan Congregationalist church in Edwards' day utilized the same Westminster Shorter Catechism that CPC utilizes to this day in the catechesis of our children and adults. And as it happens, New Haven colony was the location for its printing on behalf of the entire New England region. Such is the historical import that was begun on October 11, 1992 at 9:30 AM, the fruition of a puritan's dream, the consummation of a puritan's printing.
And yet by far the greater import of what began in 1991 is the materialization of a "Total Christ" vision for the mediatorial presence of Christ in greater New Haven and throughout the world. Described as the "pillar and bulwark of the church" in 1 Timothy 3:15, and the "dwelling place of God" in Ephesians 2:22, as long as CPC is faithful to "Christ first" - not merely a campaign slogan or a sentimental thought, but a principle in how to interpret the scripture and the substance that informs everything the church does and how she does it - we are assured that even the "gates of hell will not prevail against her." (Mt 16)
And as far back as the Acts of the Apostles, history has shown that the best way to reach new generations, new residents and new people groups for the Gospel of Jesus Christ is quite simply to get people to the person of Christ himself! At Mission Anabaino, we believe that during Christ’s ascension ministry today, Christ has an address at every place where there is an apostolic, Christ-centered church. T. F. Torrance in Royal Priesthood explained it like this:
The Spirit operates by creating out of the word a body, which St. Paul calls the Body of Christ…. As such this body becomes matched to Christ as His vis-à-vis in history and as the instrument of His saving purpose in the Gospel. It is the sphere where through the presence of the Spirit the salvation-events of the birth, life, death, resurrection, and ascension are operative here and now in history, the sphere where within the old creation the new creation has broken in with power.
This is our story and testimony!
"I will build my church..." Matthew 16
- July 1, 1643-February 22, 1649: Westminster Assembly and the adoption of the Westminster Confession of Faith - see An Anglican Renewal Movement (J.I. Packer)
- 1705: The first Presbytery was formed reflecting the efforts of first Presbyterian minister, church planter, Francis Mackem
- 1716: The first synod, the Synod of Philadelphia was formed including the New York Region
- 1729: The Adoption Act Synod of New York
- 1786: The First Publishing of Westminster Shorter Catechism in New Haven
- Summer of 1991: A “serendipitous” trip across the Long Island Sound.
- Fall 1991: The Formation of a “High Gospel-High Church" Vision: A Thursday evening Bible Study in the Westville area of New Haven
- 1993: Sermon Series in Ephesians, Establishment of Sunday School, Mid-Week Study Center Congregation of 22 adults and 26 children
- 4:00 PM, November 6, 1994: Special Service of Organization of the Northeast Presbytery at the Neighborhood Music School, 100 Audubon St. New Haven. Evangelist Preston Graham Jr. was installed as Pastor; George Levesque, Cliff Bogue, Rob Hawkes were installed as Ruling Elders.
- 1994-1995: Characterized by many wonderful evidences of spiritual growth, 7 adult professions of faith and membership up to 77 with weekly worship attendance averaging 140. Plans being made to plant a daughter church in Providence, R.I. with CPC pastoral Intern Melvin Sensenig.
- September 5, 1997: Christ Presbyterian Church purchased for a Study Center and future site of worship 135 Whitney Avenue. The aging 1850 Gothic Revival Cottage was purchased at a price of $400,000. (Designed by Architect Jackson Downing and featured in his The Architecture of Country House (1850) under the design title “A Symmetrical Cottage Design # 7.” Described as combining “the beautiful with the good”, the design was commissioned by Ezra Reid, President of the Bank of New Haven, for his aging parents. In 1922, the cottage was sold to its second owner, Father Riggs, the first Catholic chaplain assigned to Yale University and founder of St. Thomas Moore Chapel.) CPC became the 4th owner and her members initiated a sacrificial effort to restore and renovate the existing cottage in conformity to its original design lasting several years with significant costs measured in both sweat and financial equity.
- Fall 1999: the church hired an associate pastor of college ministry, Tom Morrison, to assist in ministry with Yale students especially.
- April of 2001: after two years of legal, political, financial and architectural preparations, there was a groundbreaking at 135 Whitney Avenue for a future Sanctuary of Worship. (Architect: Paul Pozzi and Associates, Owner's Representative: Hugh Hedges, Attorney: Steven Mednick)
- April 2002: God’s power evidenced in human weakness, including a miraculous and unexpected gift of $850,000 at a moment when the project seemed all but lost, the building project was granted a temporary certificate of occupancy right on time for the first worship service on Easter Sunday, albeit with concrete floors and unpainted walls exposed.
- August 2005: Commissioned David Hutchinson along with several CPC families to plant a daughter church in Danbury, CT
- July 2006: Began first annual Loving New Haven Impact Week with a VBS soccer camp in the Hill neighborhood and construction work on the Whitney property.
- Summer 2007: Began Bible study in the Hill community.
- Spring 2008: Church Commissions artist Makoto Fujimura for the chancel art, Anabaino, for permanent location on the wall of the Whitney chancel.
- Fall 2008: The initiation of a multi-congregational vision for reaching New Haven and the commissioning of Rev. Tolivar Wills to establish a CPC congregation in the Hill community following two summers of mission activity in the Hill previously.
- August 2009: Worship Services of CPC in the Hill, a second congregation of CPC, began in the Boys and Girls Club at 230 Columbus Avenue.
- October 2010: We began a Bible study with the intention of exploring the possibility of a third site, later to be called Goatville (the nickname of a neighborhood in New Haven).
- October 2011: Goatville began worshiping at 135 Whitney Avenue at 4:30.
- April 2012: The Goatville service began worshiping at 1:35 in the afternoon.