Historic landmark church makes unprecedented community effort

By Tom Momberg

Zion Episcopal Church in Douglaston is celebrating 185 years in June, marked by its annual Strawberry Festival. But this year, the church is taking the festival as a chance to reaffirm its place in the Douglaston and Little Neck communities under its new leadership.

Though Zion Church is a nearly two-century-old historic landmark widely known for the festival, it is clear that it is trying to engage the community and its parishioners in new and interesting ways.

Rev. Lindsay Lunnum came to Zion in 2013 as the first female rector at an Episcopal church in Queens. And her strides to make the church a more welcoming community center for everyone could not be more apparent.

“This parish is growing,” Lunnum said. “It’s exciting that we are full of people of all ages and an active youth group. It’s so beautiful to see these relationships come together between our longtime members, young families and teenagers.”

The church has cultivated a new look, most notably with a freshly painted red door, which Lunnum said helps signal to the neighborhood that the doors are always open.

The church already does a good job of letting neighbors know. The annual Strawberry Festival is an institution in northeast Queens.

Slated for Saturday, June 13, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., the festival provides the neighborhood with an opportunity to gather at Zion’s churchyard at 243-01 Northern Blvd.

Sales of fresh, locally grown strawberries, strawberry shortcake and other sweets will highlight the festival activities, which also include a food court, flea market, children’s games, raffle, book sale and bouncy house.

Youth from the church’s music programs will provide entertainment, but also as a part of Zion’s new approach, it has invited several community musicians and performers to help commemorate the landmark event.

Zion is making progress to not only build a stronger community presence under Lunnum’s leadership, but also in bridging new partnerships and making the parish more welcoming to diverse members.

The church’s new interfaith services have established collaborations with local religious organizations from diverse cultures and belief systems to encourage a common place for public participation.

In recognizing the needs of a diverse community, Zion has also established an unprecedented program to encourage families that struggle with developmental disorders to take part in religious activities.

The monthly service is called Rhythms of Grace, which is inclusive to families who cannot worship in the more traditional ways.

Lunnum is a mother of two, one of whom has an Autism Spectrum Disorder. She said growing rates in autism and developmental disorders have, in turn, meant lower church participation.

“A lot of families with a child with, say, autism often stop coming to church because their child cannot sit still,” Lunnum said. “But the physical and interactive nature of the monthly service gives a renewed opportunity for those families to worship together.”

Reach reporter Tom Momberg by e-mail at tmomberg@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 260–4573.