Day 573

Arya Spiritual Center

July 25th, 2013

Established in 1992, this temple serves a large membership of Indo-Caribbean Hindus, most of whom are from Guyana.

The temple building was formerly the "Mother Church" of the intriguingly named Church of the Four Leaf Clover. The church erected the building here in Briarwood/Jamaica in 1925-26 and sold it to the Arya Spiritual Center in 1992. In 1925, one newspaper reported that the building was going to be called the Temple of Truth. I don't think that name stuck, however, because that was the only mention of it I found in the newspaper archives.

The Church of the Four Leaf Clover was regularly listed and described in the papers as a spiritualist congregation. Spiritualists believe in communication with the spirits of the dead. (Our old friend Allan Kardec's Spiritism is an offshoot of spiritualism.)

I found several old newspaper articles that shed a little light on the history, beliefs, and practices of the church:

  • The Daily Star, 1925: The church was incorporated in 1923 and its congregation consists of "more than 300 families from all sections of Queens". The church is "non-sectarian and subscribes to no set creed. The tenets of the church command only the observation of the laws of God and man and demand tolerance of race and religion."

  • The Daily Star, 1929: The church "knows no creeds, and has no forms of worship." The congregation stands and faces east during services. According to a church leader, "All wisdom comes from the east. Knowledge may be purchased—but wisdom never."

  • Nassau Daily Review-Star, 1948: While the church believes in the teachings of Jesus, it uses a four-leaf clover as its symbol instead of a cross, with the four leaves symbolically reaching out "to the four corners of the earth". Clergy are not financially compensated; the pastor mentioned in the article works as an electrical contractor.

  • The Daily Star, 1929: The pastor of the Mother Church is the Rev. Martha E. Claas, a "well-known psychic". The church is planning to help people of Bayside (where it has established a mission) develop their "spiritual gifts, such as wisdom, healing power, working of miracles, prophecy, seeing and hearing and the interpreting thereof"; local residents have requested this instruction "in view of such power having already been visited upon them." According to the Rev. Claas and another church leader: "Freely have we received and freely we give. Our reward comes hereafter, provided we increase the talents given us from beyond the realms of men and the rudiments of men." (It's not stated explicitly, but I'm guessing that "seeing and hearing and the interpreting thereof" and "such power having already been visited upon them" and "given us from beyond the realms of men" refer to communication with spirits.)

  • The Daily Star, 1930: A church leader will give a lecture on reincarnation at the Mother Church.

  • The Daily Star, 1932 (among many others): The church calls its Sunday school Summerland. (I was hoping this was its way of trying to trick kids into thinking Sunday school was fun, but it turns out that the Summerland is a spiritualist conception of the spirit world, "an inhabitable sphere or zone of spiritualized matter in space". Here's an illustration of the Summerland as a "circular belt" from what I believe is the seminal work on the subject, Andrew Jackson Davis's A Stellar Key to the Summer Land, published in 1867.)
The church built at least two additional houses of worship in other communities where it had first established missions. The Second Church of the Four Leaf Clover was dedicated in 1933 at 204th Street and 33rd Avenue in Auburndale/Bayside, Queens, and it still stands there today. It's a smaller structure than the Mother Church, but has some similar architectural features. The building is currently owned by the Sri Chinmoy Centre, which bought it from the church in 1972. (Sri Chinmoy was the founder of the Self-Transcendence 3100 Mile Race.) This 1973 article mentions Sri Chinmoy holding meditation sessions at the Second Church.

The Third Church of the Four Leaf Clover is in Hempstead, in Long Island's Nassau County. It looks almost identical to the Second Church, and was built on a very similar timeline. Its groundbreaking was held on February 5, 1933, a week before the Second Church's, and it was dedicated on October 8, 1933, a week after the Second Church. I was surprised when I visited the Third Church in Street View and found what appears to be an active, or at least actively maintained, Clover church. I had assumed that the Church of the Four Leaf Clover no longer existed, given the scarcity of information about it online, but the Street View image shows a well-kept building with a "FOUR LEAF CLOVER PARKING ONLY" sign at the entrance to the parking lot, message boards that still bear the name of the church, and a clover symbol on the pediment (above the columns).

From what I gather, each of the Four Leaf Clover churches had a clover symbol set inside a circle on its pediment, as well as another clover on a globe mounted above the facade. A cloverless circle can still be seen on the former Mother Church, above, and on the Second Church. A globe remains on top of the Third Church, but its clover appears to be gone. You can see the Mother Church's globe in this old image.

A Fourth Church of the Four Leaf Clover, in Holbrook, Suffolk County, farther out on Long Island, was mentioned numerous times in The Suffolk County News in the mid-1950s, but I never read anything about the church having its own building. A blurb in the paper in 1954, for example, said that upcoming "services will be held as usual at the home of the Rev. Gus Berglund", the church's pastor, who lived with his wife on Hiram Avenue. The paper's listings of church services gave the location of the Fourth Church as Hiram Avenue and Mohawk Place, so I assume that's where the Berglunds' house was. Some church events listed in the paper were held at the home of a Mr. William Albert and his wife, also on Hiram Avenue. I mention this because the 1992 deed transferring title of the former Mother Church to the Arya Spiritual Center was signed by the secretary of The Church of the Four Leaf Clover, Inc., a William T. Albert of 1606 Hiram Avenue in Holbrook, which is located at the intersection of Hiram Avenue and Mohawk Place.

UPDATE: 2015 and 2016 Street View images of the Third Church reveal that it is still being maintained. The parking sign mentioned above has been touched up. The message board messages are still the same as in 2012, but a formerly missing letter has appeared: "GOD IS OVE" has become "GOD IS LOVE". The globe has been removed from the top of the building.

I found four phone numbers listed for the Third Church and fruitlessly tried dialing them all in hopes of determining if the church is still active. One number now belongs to a law firm, another seems to be a family's number (based on the voicemail message), the third just kept ringing, and the fourth was disconnected.

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