Riverside Church in New York City elects first female leader on Pentecost

(Photo: ECUMENICAL NEWS / Marcus Lundin)Photo of Riverside Church in New York City, taken on June 9, 2014.

Following a period of decreasing membership and internal tension, Riverside Church in Uptown New York has elected a new leader to head the church.

Rev. Amy K. Butler will be the first woman to lead the church, which opened in 1930.

The decision to elect Butler, 44, was reached after the church had struggled for a number of years with decling membership, as well as internal disagreements that led to her predecessor the Rev. Brad R. Braxton's resignation in 2009, The New York Times reported Sunday.

On Pentecost Sunday, in front of a crowded church, the Rev. Butler took to the pulpit encouraging members to come together as brothers and sisters in faith, just as the disciples of Jesus did in the Early Church nearly 2,000 years ago.

In her sermon, Butler said "this hurting world needs the hope" church members can offer. Addressing the congregation, she said God's church can be a place where believers are healed, where they can heal each other and together heal the world.

Butler, a Hawaii native, was selected from among 91 applicants after a careful 2-year search conducted by a 12-member church committee, according to an article in Washington Post.

Most recently, she has spent the last 11 years rebuilding another struggling, albeit smaller church in Washington, D.C., spending much hands-on time with that congregation.

This stands in contrast to Butler's two most immediate predecessors at Riverside Church, who came primarily came from academic backgrounds.

Riverside Church is an interdenominational church located in the Morningside Heights neighborhood of New York City.

While interdenominational, it is associated with the American Baptist Churches USA and the United Church of Christ.

The New York Times reports that since 2007, when the Rev. James A. Forbes retired, the church membership has dropped from 2,700 to 1,670.

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