Rev. Adriene Thorne, Pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Brooklyn, a founder of the Brooklyn Heights Community Fridge, one of the BHB Ten 2021, recipient of the Brooklyn Heights Association Community Service Award 2022, a former Radio City Rockette, and self-described “Mama, Minister, and Mystic,” has been named Senior Minister of The Riverside Church.
The Riverside Church, located in Morningside Heights, is a storied church with national prominence. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. preached his famous anti-Vietnam War sermon, “Beyond Vietnam,” from the Riverside pulpit in 1967. The Church has also hosted Nelson Mandela, President Clinton, the Dalai Lama, and countless other dignitaries. To find a new Senior Minister, the Church’s search committee cast a nationwide net for 18 months and considered dozens of ministers before choosing Rev. Adriene to lead the congregation.
Today, Rev. Adriene delivered her last sermon at First Presbyterian Church, titled “Brave Enough,” to a congregation brimming with emotions and applause. “Church folk don’t need to be wildly brave, just brave enough,” Rev. Adriene said, imploring her congregation to be open to change. “Be brave enough to change your seat,” she said, drawing laughter in the sanctuary. “Be brave enough to have more fun. Brave enough to take these pews out of here. Open up this space to exciting possibilities. Remember you are a church alive, not a museum, not a mausoleum. Make space for others to belong here and for others to lead.”
After the sermon, member of the church Nathan Dudley said, “I have mixed feelings about Rev. Adriene leaving. She’s a very strong presence here and in the community. I think it’s great that she’s moving onto Riverside and I’m very hopeful for her ministry there. It’s a very important pulpit in America and this is a very important time in our country. I want the best for her and I want the best for our congregation. And I think we’re all going to be alright.”
Meghan Cavanaugh, a member of the church’s renowned choir, said, “I’m very sad. Adriene has transformed this church into a place where everyone can feel welcome. I’ve been here almost ten years and I’ve seen the church go through other transitions before she arrived. But once we got her, the light just clicked and she just took this church to an entirely new high. She did such an incredible job shepherding this church through the pandemic. We actually managed to grow our presence virtually. On Easter, we had over 500 people on our livestream, which was an incredible feat. Her messages are so powerful. They speak so much to people. I’m going to miss her presence around here. She is literally just like a walking light.”
Meanwhile, Rev. Adriene took her usual spot outside spreading her light to parishioners, young and older, as they left. In return, many expressed good wishes and prayers for Rev. Adriene and her 12-year-old daughter Petal as they embark on a new home church together.
Asked how she felt after her last sermon at the church she led for six years, Rev. Adriene said, “It’s a lot of mixed feelings, it’s bittersweet, happy, sad. I did think this would be the church I would retire from. But as I told my congregation, when we make plans, God laughs. So it is a day of big feelings and mixed emotions. I think this congregation is amazing. We’re celebrating our 200th anniversary this year and there’s a reason that churches like this last as long as that. This church has been an anchor in the neighborhood from the beginning and my wish is that they will continue to be that. So I hope we will continue to partner with our neighbors, to feed those who are hungry, to visit those who are in prison, and to make a difference not only in Brooklyn Heights and the larger Brooklyn borough, but in the City of New York, the State, and the nation.”