Our History

History of The Rugby Deliverance Tabernacle (formerly The Rugby Congregational Church)

The history of The Rugby Congregational Church begun in 1907, when a number of the residents from the Rugby community of Brooklyn, New York gathered together for weekly prayer meetings in their individual homes.  The growth of the group encouraged an evangelistic layman, Edwin M. Heroy, his wife and daughter to lead the worshippers. A vacant store at 5010 Church Avenue was rented for weekly services. The group relocated a local store on 4913 Church Avenue due to an increasing attendance. The Rev. Robert Kent of the Lewis Avenue Congregational Church and the Rev. W.G. Warren of the United Congregational Church, both of Brooklyn, assisted the new group with positive leadership and financial resources. Six years later, on February 14th, 1913 the church was incorporated as The Rugby Congregational Church and in September of that year the Rev. R.E. Rutherford was called to be the church’s first pastor. The forefathers of the church were primarily made up of working class English, Scotch, Irish, German and Scandinavian immigrants.

As the church grew and positively impacted the community it was necessary to purchase land for a larger sanctuary and as a result the plot of land on East 49th Street and Snyder Avenue was identified. In 1927, a building loan mortgage of $35,000 from the Flatbush Savings Bank was obtained. The total cost of the project was $95,000. The church obtained financial support from church members and merchants from Church Avenue, Utica Avenue and even as far as Pitkin Avenue. The laying of the church cornerstone was done on Sunday, November 20th, 1927 with a very impressive ceremony attended by borough and community dignitaries. Seven months later the building was completed and dedication services were held on Sunday, June 10th, 1928 led by the Rev. Harry Dodd Sheldon, the Church’s pastor from January 1st, 1925 until his retirement on December 1, 1931. The present sanctuary building now stands as a monument to a great work of the founders of this great church. A decision was made to purchase the Queen Anne style building on the adjoining property, 4905 Snyder Avenue, which would be used as the church’s parsonage. The purchase price was $12,000. This is now the Rugby Family Services building.

The Great Depression of the 1930s took its toll on the financial structure of the Rugby church. Fortunately, there existed at that time the Congregational Church Building Society from which the Rugby Church was able to obtain many interest free loans to pay the interest on the church mortgage. Eventually this source of income dried up and the church fell behind on its interest payments although the bank had reduced the interest rate to 3%. In March 1936 the bank foreclosed on the mortgage but allowed the congregation to use the church on a month-to-month basis. In fact, the church came close to selling the building but the favor of God was on Rugby and the members managed to raise the funds to pay the mortgage and keep the door open. Indeed throughout its early history, the church was blessed with leaders of vision and the dedication of members who managed to help the church to function through the Depression and the 2nd World War.

Before World War II ended, 83 church members and former members of the Rugby Church’s Boy Scout Troop No. 378 served in the various Branches of Service. Stained-glass windows in the church sanctuary permanently memorialized Sgt. Ralph Bisdale and Lt. John DePuy, who were in the Air Corps and were eventually listed as MIAs. Rugby Church participated in many notable city-wide events and campaigns to improve the lives of the community it served.  This included financial support for World War refugees, plays and orchestra concerts for the community and participation in city-wide events in support of young people. The church was also a meeting center for many civic and religious organizations. On July 1st, 1943, the Rev. James F. Laughton took up residency in the parsonage as the new pastor. Born of Scotch missionary parents in China, Rev. Laughton helped to develop the interfaith relationship between the members of the church and those of the East Flatbush Jewish community during the anxious World War II days. During this time, Rev. Laughton made many trips to Washington D.C. on behalf of the Jewish residents of the community, who had requested his assistance to help them get safe passage to the States for their relatives who were still in Europe. Today, Yale University in New Haven, CT has a repository of the Rev. James Laughton’s letters, writings and collected writings.

The changes and development throughout the next decades were marked by hard work, dedication and wise financial management with the result of the retirement of the mortgage before the church’s 50th anniversary on December 9th, 1962. This was achieved under the leadership of Rev. Fred Addison who retired in 1965. In 1967, the first of a series of chaplains began leading Rugby Church as Interim Pastors beginning with Colonel Cloma Huffman as the Trustees tried to find a pastor. Chaplains were provided by the Army Chaplin School which was then located in Fort Hamilton, Bay Ridge section of Brooklyn. This continued until December 1980 when the Rev. Edwin Callender was elected as pastor.

The challenging times the church experienced during the first seventy-five years was met with faithful service and hard word of ministers and members alike. Special mention must be made of the women whose fundraising efforts helped to keep the church doors open. The women groups included the Ladies Aid Society at the birth of the church, the Mother’s Club the 1930s later became the Women’s Guild of today. Another group of women, the Willing Workers, also contributed a lot of their time and effort to raising funds for the church. Two other individuals, Marguerite C. Grotte and Richard A. Ebbitt, played seminal roles as the link between the infancy of the then Rugby Congregational Church and The Rugby Deliverance Tabernacle. Richard A. Ebbitt functioned in the church from the 1920s (until his death in 2005), in various capacities including trustee, treasurer and historian. The church honored him by naming the 2nd Floor mezzanine of the sanctuary in his name. Marguerite Grotte started attending the church in 1914 and played a vital role in building up the Sunday School until her death in 1998. She was honored her by the dedication of the auditorium in her name.

In the 1970s and 1980s, the congregation continued to reflect the changing community with new immigrants from the Caribbean. A significant turning point in the history of the church came with the introduction of the current pastor – Archbishop Dr. Sidley R. Mullings in 1987. Dr. Mullings was officially installed on January 27, 1992 and became the 26th pastor of this historic church. Under Dr. Mullings’ leadership the church now has both a local and global vision. He has been very instrumental in the tremendous growth of the membership of the church and its impact on local communities and globally. On January 11th, 2003, the name of the church was changed to The Rugby Deliverance Tabernacle to reflect the nature of the vision and service of the church.

Over the years under Archbishop Mullings, The Rugby Deliverance Tabernacle has made an indelible impact on the Brooklyn community. The church works cooperatively with the New York State Department of Education to provide free education classes to both young people and adults, so they can obtain their high school diploma. This is done through the faith-based community arm of the church, the Rugby Family Services. The church also works with the New York City Department of Youth and Community Development to provide community services for the young people of Brooklyn. Services include education classes, computer training, family counseling and career development. The business community, civic and political leaders have all been very appreciative of the work the church has done to help strengthen the community and build responsible and productive citizens.

The role the church plays in helping the homeless and needy of the community is another significant area of community services that must be highlighted. The church provides hot meals for the hungry and homeless two times per week funded by donations from the church and well wishers. The church averages serving 300 meals per week. The church has an annual Thanksgiving feeding program which provides over 1,500 free Thanksgiving meals to the needy each year. The church also provides winter coats and other clothing to the needy as the need arise and supplies last.

The Rugby Deliverance Tabernacle has also developed a global mission to help the needy and poor to several countries in Africa, Asia, the Caribbean and South America through its missionary arm, the Dorcas Medical Mission. The Dorcas Medical Mission was formed in 2000 and organizes international medical missions twice a year. The mission team always includes doctors, dentists, nurses, missionaries and support staff. The teams can range in size from 12 to 100 on any mission and works closely with the governments and health department of the target countries. We have also had medical missions to New Orleans to help the victims of the Katrina storm. The list of countries that has benefited from the missions over the years include South Africa, Ghana, Nigeria, Zambia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, St Lucia,  Jamaica, Guyana, Grenada, the Dominican Republic, Haiti and Puerto Rico. The church has also rebuilt schools and churches in Ghana and South Africa, dug a well to supply several towns in Ghana and paid for specialized medical surgeries, (performed in the United States), for several patients we encountered on the international missions. This was done on a case by case basis based on the severity of the condition and the unavailability of the medical expertise in the specific situation.

This work has been achieved with the vision of the senior pastor, Archbishop Sidley Mullings and the development of new leaders in the church. It was his destiny to lead this church into its 100th anniversary.  The impact of the church can be seen in very tangible evidence, which many can see today. The dramatic increase in the size of the congregation necessitated the expansion and renovation of the church sanctuary, the beatification of the church property and the acquisition of real estate to meet the growing needs of the church and community. The result has been a stabilization of the real estate value of the community which is an attraction for new residents.

In addition, The Rugby Deliverance Tabernacle, under the leadership of Archbishop Mullings, oversees churches in the United States, the Philippines, India, Ghana and South Africa and several countries in the Caribbean. We are thankful that our forerunners left us a legacy that was the Rugby Congregational Church. Today, the Rugby Deliverance Tabernacle has built on that foundation of the past and we endeavor to continue to expand on it for those who will come after us. After 100 years, as we are “Celebrating the Past, Transforming the Present and Impacting the Future”, we look forward with hope and expectation to making more contributions to our great history, as we undertake to continue to make this world a better place for all humanity.