We are woven together.
Westminster is a community of people who come from different neighborhoods in Albany and different towns and cities in the Capital Region.
- Some of us come from families with deep roots in the area and others have recently arrived in the U.S. from Ghana, Sierra Leone, Liberia and other parts of the world.
- Some of us have professional jobs and worked remotely through the pandemic and some of us are frontline workers who are now struggling with mandated overtime.
- Some of us have children at home and others look forward to evenings when we can see our grandchildren on Zoom.
- Some of us grew up in the Presbyterian Church and know many of the hymns by heart. Others have only recently found a home here after searching for a place that would accept us as we are, without shame or judgment about our sexual orientation or gender identity.
We come to Westminster because we find here something we are hungry for and can’t find anywhere else: a caring, committed, diverse community. We do not all look the same or like all the same things or share all the same opinions. But we are committed to coming together as one in the service of a purpose greater than any one of us. We are woven together in love for each other, and love for the God who has been made known to us in Jesus Christ.
All around us, we see the fabric of community fraying–in racial injustice, in our tendency to ignore the needs and gifts of other countries and continents, in distrust towards those who have recently arrived in our country, in the political and religious divisions that increasingly define our nation.
The world needs people who can weave the fabric of community. What we are doing at Westminster matters–to us, and to this whole hurting world. Will you come weave with us?
Westminster Presbyterian Church is a member of the Presbyterian Church (USA). We connect with other churches in our denomination through the Synod of the Northeast and the Albany Presbytery.
That’s plain enough, isn’t it? You’re no longer wandering exiles. This kingdom of faith is now your home country. You’re no longer strangers or outsiders. You belong here, with as much right to the name Christian as anyone. God is building a home. He’s using us all—irrespective of how we got here—in what he is building. He used the apostles and prophets for the foundation.
Now God is using you, fitting you in brick by brick, stone by stone, with Christ Jesus as the cornerstone that holds all the parts together. We see it taking shape day after day—a holy temple built by God, all of us built into it, a temple in which God is quite at home.
(Ephesians 2:19-22, from “The Message” by Eugene Peterson)
Want to know more about our history?
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Westminster Presbyterian Church: Our History
This brief history was written in 2004 by Ada Linkletter who had been a member for many years. It was rewritten and updated in 2021 by the Rev. David McMillan, HR.
In 1782, the First Presbyterian Church of Albany was built where today stands the Times Union arena. Forty years later, as migrating Yankees from New England began to replace the predominantly Dutch population, the Second, Third and Fourth Presbyterian churches were established up the hill and away from the Hudson River
Another forty years passed until the Presbyterians decided to plant a church even further up the hill. Thus, in 1862, the State Street Presbyterian Church was formed primarily by members of Second Church. First Church then leap-frogged all three and built a new church opposite Washington Park.
In 1909, Third Church united with Second and ten years later the members united with the State Street congregation to form Westminster, thus completing the 125 yearlong half mile migration up State Street.
The first minister of Westminster was Julius Valdemar Moldenhower. A scholar who gave public reading of Shakespearean plays while denouncing the moral depravity of society, he left Westminster in 1927 to become the successor to Harry Emerson Fosdick as pastor of the
First Presbyterian Church in New York City.
In 1928, a new pastor arrived and the building burned down. The building was promptly rebuilt as Kenneth Welles began his twenty-five-year pastorate during which the congregation would grow to nearly 1500 members. These were years of the Great Depression and World War II when people turned to the church seeking solace and hope for economic prosperity and the return of their sons from the battlefields of war. Today, four file boxes containing 1500 handwritten sermons are evidence of his devotion to a congregation with whom he made 1500 visits annually.
During the years of Dr. Welles’ pastorate, the Church School engaged in a 20-year character research program which stressed Christian humanitarian ethics and values. The study was supervised by faculty from Union College and would result in a number of Westminster young people entering the Christian ministry.
These also were the years of the gradual migration of Westminster families to the suburbs. The leaders of Westminster may not have realized how different things would be through the next fifty years as four pastors sought to lead the congregation. Each pastor would try to preserve Westminster’s reputation while trying new programs, some of which continue today.
Kenneth Welles died in 1953. The challenge of following a dearly beloved pastor is always difficult and Harold Ogden remained as the third pastor of Westminster for only three years, from 1954 to 1957.
In 1957 a quiet revolution began when women were, for the first time, elected and ordained as deacons and elders. In time, we would even have women as trustees, though this remained a masculine bastion for some years.
In 1959 John Laske became the fourth pastor. His were the turbulent years of the 1960’s when church members debated the merits of the emerging civil rights movement and America’s participation in the war in Vietnam. Inevitably, some members were alienated, especially by the Presbyterian denomination’s contribution to the Angela David Defense Fund.
In 1967, four proud Protestant Churches in downtown Albany realized the needs of the community were immediate and greater than any one church could handle. Thus was FOCUS born. An acronym for Four Old Churches United in Service, together the congregations sponsored a popular education institute which offered social action courses taught by area faculty. FOCUS still serves our neighborhood community in many ways, including a breakfast program held throughout the year in the Assembly Room of Westminster.
The history of a congregation is often divided into the pastorates of the clergy. This creates the illusion that little changes in a church unless the preacher is behind it. That is not so. In Westminster a social consciousness was growing among the congregation, a consciousness born of the witness of Martin Luther King. Where once the predominantly white congregation gave little thought to minorities living in Albany, their minds were challenged, issues were debated and suggestions were made about what role the church might play in what The Confession of 1968 called “The Ministry of Reconciliation.”
The slow transition from a socially prominent church into a smaller congregation more involved in the social issues of the day continued when Jack Laske left in 1972 and was succeeded as our fifth pastor, Carl Cooper. These were the final days of the war in Vietnam and Rev Cooper was confronted by the accumulated conflict resulting from the war, as were all conscientious clergy attempting to hold their churches together. His ministry would be the second shortest in Westminster’s history, ending in 1982.
The sixth pastor was Albert Newman who served Westminster from 1983 until 1999. While the issues of war and peace, of racism and prejudice receded from the congregation’s mind, the role of women and of homosexuals began to emerge. By this time, the transformation of Westminster was clear as a newly established lecture series brought William Sloan Coffin and Governor Mario Cuomo to the church and the community. Both men represented a progressive understanding of the gospel.
During Rev Newman’s pastorate, in 1990 Alfred and Susan Fedak began to serve as organist and choir director. They would remain at Westminster until Al’s retirement after thirty-one years of service during which Al gained national attention as a composer. Al and Sue brought together a special group of gifted and committed musicians to form a choir which inspired and led the congregation in singing their praises to God.
Al Newman was followed in 2002 by James Reisner as the seventh pastor. His ministry was marked by a deep pastoral concern for members of both the church and the community, a ministry which required him to visit an aging congregation in which illness and death were ever present. It was during his ministry that Ada Linkletter who first wrote this history died.
Jim supported Lois Wilson who initiated a ministry with West African immigrants, especially those from Ghana, Sierra Leone, Togo and Liberia. Racial, ethnic and cultural diversity began to characterize the congregation. This experience stimulated the congregation to extend their ministry to a local motel housing homeless mothers and children as well as to develop relationships with African congregations through which Westminster could support schools and education for children made orphans by Ebola.
Jim Reisner and his family left us in 2019. The Covid 19 pandemic was just coming upon us when Heather Kirk Davidoff was called to become then eighth pastor of Westminster. She led us in worship via Zoom until late summer of 2021 when services in the sanctuary resumed. Today, she works with us as we seek to hear God’s call to Westminster in the years to come.