Ridgewood church
shares site with gym

By Queens Courier Staff |

When Reverend Henry Fury became pastor of United Presbyterian Church of Ridgewood nine years ago, the church was struggling financially. The culture of Ridgewood was changing and 30 local churches were reaching out to the same small pool of people. He sold a small portion of the property and used the proceeds to help the church, but knew more drastic measures were needed to keep it running.

“The Church of the Open Door,” located at 62-54 60th Place, remains open over 100-hours-a-week. Fury has devised innovative strategies to combat the increasing costs of owning and operating a large building, including opening a gym downstairs.

The Rock Fitness Center opened two years ago and has about 400 members, offers very modest rates with senior discounts and is run entirely by volunteers. All income goes to the church. Director Mark Ortiz donated all the equipment to the church. The gym is open from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. Monday through Saturday and allows teens aged 14-17 membership to keep them off the streets, though they can only come after school between 3 and 7 p.m. The church and the gym are two separate entities, anyone can join and there is no proselytizing.

On Thursdays and Fridays from 5 – 6 p.m., a portion of the gym converts into a dining room to serve meals at the Soup Kitchen. The Food Pantry is open Wednesday- Friday from 12-5 p.m. The food is provided by the Food Bank of New York and run by volunteers. Outreach Coordinator Juan Lopez says they feed 60 people each week and distribute clothing and toys donated by church drives.

While the gym is helpful, it’s not sufficient financially.

Fury is exploring two options: developing the church property or selling it. He is working with a realtor to determine the market value of the property and will then see if it’s better to continue his mission at the current location or relocate.

“We will remain open and operating. Whatever we do, we are not closing or tearing down the church,” Fury insisted.

He prefers developing the property next door and turning it into senior housing co-ops. There is also talk of renovating 2/3 of the sanctuary for apartments and converting the downstairs area into office space, leaving the front portion strictly for worship. He said many church groups have come to look at the property, but can’t afford to buy it.

“This is all contingent upon financing, which is difficult in this economy. If it’s impossible, we’ll go back to the option of selling. The most likely buyer would be a developer, but that’s not the way we want to go,” Fury said.