A $100 million trust has the Setauket Presbyterian Church community’s collective ear.
Along with five other philanthropic entities, the church was named a beneficiary of a $100 million charitable trust from the estates of Kingsley Gillespie and his son, Kenyon Gillespie, earlier this spring. The Rev. Mary Speers described the big news as if she were expecting a newborn baby, referring to the trust as “an incredible gift” that will change the church in more ways than they can even anticipate.
“Think about what happens when you’re expecting a baby — especially the first one,” she said. “You’re excited — you don’t want to get too excited too fast — but you can’t help yourself … it’s exciting.”
The gift carried on the philanthropic contributions that both the Kingsley and Kenyon Gillespie families have made, keeping the arts, community service and faith strong.
The charitable trust came as a result of Kenyon Gillespie’s death in March 2015, which built upon the success of his father Kingsley Gillespie and mother Doris Kenyon, who both died in the 1980s.
The church and the nearby Long Island Museum were named beneficiaries along with MIT, Stamford Hospital, The Rotary Club of Stamford and The First Presbyterian Church of Stamford and will be receiving income earned by the $100 million trust. Stamford Hospital will be getting the biggest share of 50 percent, while the five others will receive 10 percent of the annual 5 percent distribution required by law of such trusts every year.
“It was a total surprise,” Speers said of the Setauket church learning of its role in the trust. “It took a long time for us to wrap our heads around it. We’re still trying to wrap our heads around it.”
In an interview, Speers said one of the biggest challenges facing the church would be making sure the money is used to enhance the community’s culture of participation. She said the entire congregation was in a “listening phase” since learning of the trust, soaking up as much information as possible before making any big decisions.
“We want to think of this as seed money and incentive money, rather than turning ourselves into a grant foundation,” she said. “The Gillespie family singled out the church as something distinct, and we’re trying to be faithful to that — to be part of the fabric of a healthy society.”
Speers said she hoped the influx of money would help strengthen integral pieces of the church’s mission that are already in place, like its open door exchange, which provides furniture to those in need. Doris Kenyon was born in 1900 in Brooklyn, but spent summers as a child in Old Field before moving there in the 1930s. She had a lifelong affection for the Three Village community, the Long Island Museum said in a press release. She was married to Kingsley Gillespie, a graduate of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and the two built their family in the Three Village area before retiring to Florida.
Speers said she was initially unsure of exactly how connected the Gillespie family was to the church so many decades ago, but that confusion was quickly squashed when she realized the name of Joan Kenyon Gillespie — Kingsley’s daughter — on a baptismal font that was gifted in her honor after her 1959 death.
“They were clearly a big part of this community — they loved this community,” she said.
The Setauket Presbyterian Church, founded in 1660, will benefit considerably through the charitable trust. The institution, located on the village green at Caroline Avenue in Setauket, has been a longtime home for more than 500 people of faith.