East Setauket church celebrates 60th anniversary

East Setauket church celebrates 60th anniversary

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.

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