Religion

From left, volunteers Alexandra, Ilene, Emily and Brian Horan; Sela Megibow; Cantor Marcey Wagner; Paula Balaban; and Adam Morotto. Photo from Donna Newman

By Donna Newman

Temple Isaiah in Stony Brook established a new tradition this year, gathering a multi-generational group of congregants to cook up soup and vegetarian chili for people in need of support.

Cantor Marcey Wagner envisioned the community service event to honor the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. and enlisted Social Action Committee Chairperson Iris Schiff to help with the details.

From left, Julia Megibow, Hannah Kitt (seated), Lana Megibow, Abby Fenton, Hazel and Dasi Cash Photo from Donna Newman

The morning of Jan. 15 began with a reading of the story “As Good as Anybody” — written by Richard Michelson and illustrated by Raul Colon — about the friendship that formed between civil rights leader King and Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel. The two men faced similar challenges growing up and shared a belief in the value of every human being. Heschel joined the civil rights movement and marched at King’s side in Selma in 1965.

Congregants brought fresh and canned vegetables to the synagogue and all the ingredients needed to make comfort foods. Everyone participated in the effort. After the chopping and mincing and blending, while the Instant Pots cooked, the children created greeting cards and small challahs to be delivered with the containers of food. The challah prep was under the tutelage of consummate baker Linda Jonas and the greeting cards were facilitated by artist Deborah Fisher.

The freezer is now stocked with portions of soup and chili to be delivered to the homebound, mourners and people who are ailing. They will also be available to families visiting the temple’s food pantry.

Temple Isaiah is located at 1404 Stony Brook Road, Stony Brook. For more information, please call 631-751-8518.

State assemblyman Mike Fitzpatrick with Rev. Myrel Bailey-Walton of Trinity African Methodist Episcopal Church in Smithtown. Photo from Facebook.

Pastoring a historic church with a small congregation needs confidence and faith — two qualities the reverend of Trinity African Methodist Episcopal Church at 229 New York Ave. in Smithtown naturally possesses.

The Rev. Myrel Bailey-Walton has been ensuring Trinity carries on since AME Bishop Richard Franklin Norris appointed her pastor five and a half years ago. While the church currently only has a handful of active congregants, the reverend isn’t worried.

“Numbers aren’t important,” Bailey-Walton said. “We make sure doors are open for anyone that needs us.”

She said during services and events, Smithtown residents and members of other AME churches, including Bethel AME Church in Setauket, will join Trinity’s regulars.

“We always have people stop by to see what’s going on and get involved,” Bailey-Walton said. “The neighbors around us are active as far as stopping by to see what’s going on and just letting us know that they’re there for us if we need them.”

Her motto is even if it’s one [person] she has service.”

— Marlyn Leonard

Marlyn Leonard, wife of the Rev. Gregory Leonard of Bethel AME Church, said she has attended services at Trinity. Also, Bailey-Walton preaches at the Setauket church the third Sunday of every month.

“Her motto is even if it’s one [person] she has service,” Leonard said.

Leonard said the reverend’s sermons are phenomenal, and she recommends that churchgoers stop by Trinity to see Bailey-Walton in action.

“She’s happy all the time,” she said. “When you see her, she greets with a smile and a hug. That’s who she is.”

Bailey-Walton said Trinity AME celebrated its 107th anniversary in November.

“I feel that we’re significant in Smithtown,” she said. “We’re the only African-American church — even though we embrace all the community — but still it’s historical.”

The property was once the meeting spot for freed slaves in the town who would gather regularly on the property and, in 1910, their descendants built a church on the land, according to “Smithtown, New York, 1660-1929: Looking Back Through the Lens” by Noel Gish. In 1931, the AME Church of Smithtown bought the structure for a dollar from Isadora Smith.

State Assemblyman Michael Fitzpatrick (R-St. James) said he remembers playing basketball as a teenager in Brady Park across from the church on Sunday mornings and seeing people dressed in their finest attire. For him, recognizing the historical importance of the church is important. Fitzpatrick is reaching out to representatives of Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) to see if the church can receive recognition from the state’s Historic Preservation Office and possible financial assistance.

We’re the only African-American church — even though we embrace all the community — but still it’s historical.”

— Rev. Myrel Bailey-Walton

Bailey-Walton said she balances her responsibilities as pastor with working full time and spending time with her husband, Leland, and 1-year-old child. To spread the word about the church, the reverend regularly posts on social media and the internet.

The reverend and Trinity’s congregation plan a variety of events through the year, including the church’s anniversary gala in November, an open house for the community and a Women’s Day event.

Leonard said Bailey-Walton juggles her responsibilities with grace and elegance.

“She answers her calling very well,” she said. “I can’t say enough about her. Since I’ve known her, she just grasps everything in a bundle, and what needs to be done, she gets it done by the grace of God.”

Leonard said in addition to working with her congregation, Bailey-Walton is always there to help with people outside of her community, especially when it comes to children or wherever there is a need by
participating in volunteer efforts.

“She’s a role model not only for God’s house but also for the community and others,” Leonard said.

Fitzpatrick said Bailey-Walton has been working with groups such as the Boys Scouts and Royal Rangers from Smithtown Gospel Tabernacle to complete projects at the church and grounds. Work that he said is significant due to the church’s historical importance. The assemblyman believes Bailey-Walton is a perfect fit for the church and is confident in her leadership abilities.

“She is a dynamo, she really is,” he said. “She is very committed. She knows God has her back, and she’s going to do her very best to keep this church alive. Any recognition of her is well deserved.”

The interior of Messiah Lutheran Church is decorated for Christmas and the congregation’s upcoming 60th anniversary. Photo from Messiah Lutheran Church

Churches represent a significant part of the history of the Three Village area, and in December, an East Setauket church will celebrate a historic milestone.

The Messiah Lutheran Church has been part of the community for 60 years, the first service being held Dec. 22, 1957, with 58 people in attendance. The congregation began as a mission of the Atlantic District of the Lutheran Church — Missouri Synod.

For the first eight years, the congregation gathered at a hall inside VFW Post 3054 on Jones Street in East Setauket, according to a Jan. 20, 2003, Village Times Herald article written by the church’s first pastor the Rev. Henry Koepchen and Franklin Neal.

A goal of the congregation was to be near Stony Brook University. In the early 1960s, Ward Melville made 10 acres of land available to churches along Nicolls Road at $2,000 an acre. Originally, the congregation reserved land across from the school’s entrance, but when Nick Pastis offered seven and a half acres on Pond Path, his parcel was chosen instead. The construction of the building began in 1964, and a church dedication was held Palm Sunday 1966.

Messiah Lutheran Church celebrates 60 years in the Three Village community. Photo by Rita J. Egan

Town of Brookhaven Historian Barbara Russell said the location is considered the center of the historic community in the East Setauket-South Setauket area. Farmland once stretched from Bennetts Road south along Sheep Pasture Road and Pond Path to north Centereach. The area included a church on Bennetts Road, a school at the intersection of Sheep Pasture Road and Pond Path, a cider mill and the Hawkins family cemetery on the south side of the present church.

According to the article, the A-frame design of the structure is symbolic of a tent to remind worshippers that they are pilgrims on a journey. The building was designed by Robert Clothier and was created with laminated wood rafters measuring 78 feet long.

The first stage of construction included plans for a seating capacity of 306 at the center, 60 in the balcony and a wing with seven Sunday school classrooms that would accommodate 300 students, according to an article in the Nov. 22, 1963, edition of The Three Village Herald. The estimated cost of construction was $200,000.

In the 60 years of the Messiah Lutheran Church, the pastors have been long-standing. Founding pastor Koepchen remained until his retirement in September 1996. The Rev. Alfred Hofler has served as pastoral assistant since 1977, and the current pastor, the Rev. Charles Bell, was installed March 6, 1997.

In addition to offering Sunday services, the church opened a preschool in September 1997 for 3- and 4-year-olds. In 2013, a full-day New York State licensed day care program was launched.

Messiah Lutheran Church, located at 465 Pond Path, holds worship services every Sunday morning at 8:15, 9:30 and 11 a.m. A 60th-anniversary worship service is scheduled for Dec. 3 at 10 a.m. with guest preacher the Rev. Dr. John Nunes, president of Concordia College in Bronxville. For more information visit www.messiahny.com.

A WARM WELCOME Cantor Marcey Wagner in her office at Temple Isaiah Photo by Donna Newman

By Donna Newman

Spirituality has new resonance at Temple Isaiah in Stony Brook.

It comes in the voice of Marcey Wagner, who joined the Reform Jewish congregation last July, filling the dual roles of cantor and education director. The congregation will officially welcome her with an installation ceremony on Sunday, Oct. 29.

“I embrace the idea of new beginnings,” Cantor Wagner said during an interview in her temple office, “and I look forward to joyful things.”

Cantor Marcey Wagner in her office at Temple Isaiah Photo by Donna Newman

Wagner said she is pleased that many of her friends and colleagues gathered over her career will be present to celebrate and that the installing officer will be Dr. Cindy Dolgin, former head of the Solomon Schechter School on Long Island.

The addition of Cantor Marcey, as she likes to be known, is truly a joy according to her co-workers. Interim Rabbi David Katz views her as a valuable asset — both in the sanctuary and in the classroom.

“Cantor Wagner brings her vibrant nature to the bimah [clergy platform] and years of experience to the position of educational director,” he said. “She is a great addition to our staff, bringing beauty to our worship and creativity to our school.”

Temple Administrator Penny Gentile also sings Wagner’s praises. “It is a pleasure to work with Cantor Marcey,” said Gentile. “She is such a vivacious person — so full of energy that it’s absolutely contagious. I’ve heard so many positive comments from the Hebrew School students and their parents. She is truly a team player with a gift for identifying and nurturing strengths in everyone. And what a beautiful voice!”

Although ordained as a cantor, Wagner said she has not been “on the bimah” (i.e., she has not held a cantorial position) for eight years. Instead she has been focused on teaching, but she said that returning is like putting on a comfortable pair of shoes.

“I didn’t realize how much I missed it,” she said. “The audition felt like coming home.” Wagner said she loves seeing the children and hearing their voices and their laughter. For her it makes a synagogue come alive, which is why she has pursued education along with cantorial duties.

“Cantors spend more hours teaching than singing,” she said.

Wagner has been involved in all facets of Jewish education — teaching students from preschool through senior citizens. Before coming to Temple Isaiah she served as director of Youth and Family Education at Temple Israel Center in White Plains, New York. Her career included four years as principal of the Lower School of the Schechter School of Long Island and a decade as cantor and educator at the Jewish Congregation of Brookville in Nassau County.

Wagner received her investiture as hazzan (cantor) from the Jewish Theological Seminary of America, at which she also earned a master’s degree in sacred music with a concentration in education. She was selected to attend The Principals’ Center leadership seminar at the Harvard Graduate School of Education.

The board of directors at Temple Isaiah unanimously approved Wagner’s hiring and has been extremely pleased with her performance to date.

“Cantor Marcey is a breath of fresh air,” said President Jay Schoenfeld, “both on the bimah and in the religious school. Her energy is boundless and her warmth is evident in all the connections she’s already established with congregants, lay leaders and community members. A collaboration with Rabbi Katz to offer children’s services for the High Holy Days — open to the public and free of charge — demonstrates her devotion to Judaism. We are delighted to have her at Temple Isaiah.”

Cantor Marcey is delighted, too, and said she already knows she’s found a new home.

“It’s wonderful meeting people and seeing how warm and welcoming [the Temple Isaiah] community is,” she said. “I’m planning on staying a long time. I’ve been impressed with everyone’s organization and efficiency; I have a very positive feeling about this place. Everything has lived up to my expectations. It’s exciting when there’s a path to go on and you have congenial, capable partners with whom to make the journey.”

Wagner is committed to shaking things up, she said, to prove that Hebrew school can be fun. To elucidate she described last month’s opening session of the school program. Using a film clip from the movie “Babe’” in which the title character, a piglet, arrives at the farm, she led a discussion about new beginnings, which are exciting and scary — and complicated. The unconventional, unkosher protagonist, she said, was intended to make people think — and laugh. The session included students alongside their parents, and Wagner said she made sure everyone present took away at least one new bit of knowledge, to encourage discourse.

“One of the strongest ways to promote Judaism,” she said, “is to provide a venue for parents and children to discuss the important questions; to have the important conversations.”

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