Plymouth Church stands at the corner of Hicks and Orange Streets in the Brooklyn Heights section of Brooklyn, directly across the East River from the Financial District in Manhattan with its growing residential population. Brooklyn Heights is a neighborhood of tree-lined streets with brick and brownstone row houses, most from the 19th century, interspersed with low-rise apartment buildings, stores, and restaurants. The express subway lines to both the east and west sides of Manhattan converge within walking distance of the church, but life in the neighborhood—getting coffee; grocery shopping; seeing a movie; going to school; having pastries, dinner, a sandwich, or a drink—is lived on foot. This creates the opportunity for countless face-to-face encounters; we are constantly running into friends and making new ones. In the middle of the city, this is a safe, family-oriented community with many of the attributes of a small town. E.B. White, from Here is New York (1939):
“I have an idea that people from villages and small towns, people accustomed to the convenience and the friendliness of neighborhood over-the-fence living, are unaware that life in New York follows the neighborhood pattern. The city is literally a composite of tens of thousands of tiny neighborhood units….. Each area is a city within a city within a city…. So complete is each neighborhood, and so strong the sense of neighborhood, that many a New Yorker spends a lifetime within the confines of an area smaller than a country village.”
In this way, Brooklyn Heights is much like the adjacent neighborhoods of Cobble Hill, Carroll Gardens, Boerum Hill, Park Slope, Fort Greene, and DUMBO (“Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass”). Geographically, Plymouth is fortunate to sit at the axis of all of these neighborhoods, and it therefore draws its membership from all.
Like Plymouth, this part of Brooklyn is growing. On the waterfront, just a few blocks from the church, the new 85-acre Brooklyn Bridge Park is the most ambitious addition to the city’s parklands since Central Park. New restaurants in the area—many of them acclaimed—are abundant. (The old restaurants are good, too, and some are legendary. We are irreparably spoiled when it comes to pizza.) New buildings are going up. There are nearly a thousand new housing units under construction within a 10- to 15-minute walk of the church.
Few will say Brooklyn Heights is the center of “cool” in Brooklyn, but we undoubtedly benefit from having it nearby, from the Brooklyn Academy of Music to countless other music, sports, and performance venues, shops, and places to get very good coffee. Additional cultural institutions such as the Brooklyn Museum, the Brooklyn Historical Society, and Pratt Institute are only a few blocks or subway stops away. The much-loved but unsung staples of city life are here as well. Our most recent minister was deeply sad to say goodbye to the diner near the church. The man who runs the coffee cart will know your order on the third day you show up.
Brooklyn is known as the “borough of churches,” and there are indeed many here, of all stripes. Brooklyn Heights alone has two Catholic churches as well as strong Episcopal and Presbyterian congregations; the Brooklyn Heights Synagogue also has deep roots in the neighborhood. Like Plymouth, these are historically significant institutions, but in many ways opportunity has never (or at least, not in our lifetimes) been greater for churches here. The pendulum that once flung young, energetic families out of the city to the suburbs has swung back hard, and many families are choosing to stay in the city and rear their children here.
The local public elementary school in Brooklyn Heights, P.S. 8, is now thriving, thanks in large part to the engagement of a formidable community of involved parents. Some of the city’s best private schools are also here, including Saint Ann’s School, the Packer Collegiate Institute, and the Brooklyn Friends School. Plymouth Church, of course, has its own preschool, which has flourished with the commitment of parents to seeing their children raised in a loving and close community here in the city.
Samuel Johnson said, “[W]hen a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford.” For one who loves life, Brooklyn is a great place to live right now.