Our History

The Brooklyn Peace Center building, located at 23 Marcus Garvey Blvd. (formerly 23 Sumner Ave.) was one of the oldest orthodox Jewish synagogues in Brooklyn. The building was erected in 1891 by the First Austro-Hungarian Beth Shalom.

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, many congregations’ names were identified first by the immigrant group’s country of origin. Thus, the congregation primarily originated from the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

The actual name of the worshiping community followed.

Beth Shalom. House of Peace.

From its inception, across changing social-cultural and religious dynamics, this building has been dedicated to peace.

Brooklyn Peace Center exterior view
Historical services ticket
During a recent service day, volunteers who were reconstructing the bema or stage discovered this ticket.

As the neighborhood was changing due to redlining, white flight, and discriminatory lending practices, the Jewish congregation’s membership declined. Another congregation formed in 1958. This congregation, neither Jewish nor from Europe, reflected the changing neighborhood demographics.

The new congregation, Primera Iglesia Menonita de Brooklyn (First Mennonite Church of Brooklyn) originated primarily from Puerto Rico and their religious identity was Mennonite, a Christian denomination that is a member of the Historic Peace Church. The church purchased the building in 1962.

Nestled in a dynamic and diverse neighborhood, in Bedford-Stuyvesant and on the border with Bushwick, Primera Iglesia Menonita de Brooklyn held worship services at 23 Marcus Garvey for many decades. To hear the story of how Primera Iglesia Menonite de Brooklyn was founded, please watch the video.

As church membership across the United States declined, so too did church membership decline at Primera Iglesia Menonita de Brooklyn. The church was formally dissolved in 2019.

The Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) of the Mennonite Church USA held ownership of the building. Disinterested in managing real estate, ACC leadership invited Vonetta and Jason Storbakken, long-time Brooklyn residents and credentialed leaders to help discern next steps and eventually to cast vision for the space.

In 2020, in the midst of the pandemic and a heightened awareness of racialized violence and police brutality, the Storbakkens proposed the idea of Brooklyn Peace Center, a vision that was welcomed by ACC.

It was then that a partnership was also formed with the groups already meeting at 23 Marcus Garvey: NY Mennonite Immigration Program, Radical Living, Believers Mennonite Garifuna Ministries, and eventually a thrift store and café.