On August 14, 1960, former professional Ukrainian soccer player John Kobziar invited some of his neighbors to his home in Hunter, New York. The meeting that took place that evening became the first of the “Temporary Committee for the construction of the Ukrainian Catholic Chapel in the Vicinity of Hunter, NY.” Together, the group raised the funds to build what is known today as St. John the Baptist Ukrainian Catholic Church.
Construction began on the chapel and grazhda, or parish hall, in 1961 and was completed in 1962. Both structures were built entirely without nails following Ukrainian vernacular architecture and folk art principles. An offshoot of German blockwork or log construction, the church was built according to traditional Ukrainian solid log or timber building.
It’s a style of architecture commonly found in the Ukrainian Carpathian Mountains, like the UNESCO world heritage site comprising 16 wooden tserkvas (churches). The church’s spire reaches 61 feet in the air. Besides a couple of benches, there are no pews in the church since the congregation traditionally stands during services.
At the same time that the Kievan Rus’ were building many of Ukraine’s wooden tserkvas, Vikings in Scandinavia were also building wooden stave churches. The Kievan Rus’ shared many cultural and religious ties with the Vikings, including the language of Old Norse. In the medieval world, trade routes to Byzantium meant the two groups often interacted. Likewise, Ukrainian tserkvas and Viking stave churches share many similar elements. Both churches are large wooden structures built without nails in a post and lintel architectural style.
St. John the Baptist Ukrainian Catholic Church & Grazhda still holds daily services and Sunday mass, and continues to be an active place for Ukrainian-Americans to gather today.
Know Before You Go
The church and grazhda is located 5 miles west of the town of Hunter and 2 miles east of Lexington. Sunday mass is held at 10 a.m. and is followed by a buffet. There's also a daily mass at 9 a.m.
The church's art exhibit and shop are open Sunday 11:30 a.m. - 2 p.m., Tuesday through Friday 12 - 4 p.m., and Saturdays 10 a.m. - 2 p.m. and 6 - 8 p.m.