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Pastor

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First United Methodist Church in Port Jefferson. Photo by Kyle Barr

A new pastor of the First United Methodist Church of Port Jefferson will be taking over the reins of the venerable church starting July 1.

The New York Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church appointed Pastor Steve Chu as pastor, replacing Pastor Sandra J. Moore who has served the local church for three years. Pastor Chu currently serves as the Youth and English Ministry Pastor at Plainview UMC and prior to this appointment held positions in Herndon and Arlington, Virginia. He holds a Master of Divinity from Wesley Theological Seminary and an undergraduate degree from Hunter College of the City University of New York. 

The First United Methodist Church on Main Street, Port Jefferson has a long history in the community. The current building was erected in 1893 by Loper Brothers while the original chapel had been established on Thompson Street. The parsonage next door was purchased in 1930 and is still used today as a pastoral home. In 1961, the former New York Telephone Company brick building was purchased to hold Sunday school classes and now a day care program. The church is committed to Thanksgiving donations for needy families, sharing with patients at nursing homes, community concerts, a summer chicken barbecue and Christmas fair/cookie walk during the Charles Dickens
Festival weekend. 

On July 14, a welcome barbecue is being planned to follow the church service. People are asked to come and meet the new pastor.

Reverend Richard Graugh on his 12th medical mission to Honduras. Photo from Graugh

By Alex Petroski

For a dozen years, a pastor from First Presbyterian Church of Port Jefferson has been making an annual trip to Honduras to provide people of all ages with desperately needed medical care.

Reverend Richard Graugh, a Mount Sinai native who has been at First Presbyterian since 2007, first joined a small group of doctors from across North America in making a trip to the third-world country 12 years ago.

Honduran women prepare food for physicians and those waiting to be seen by doctors. Photo from Richard Graugh

In the years since its inception, the mission has expanded to include the establishment of a nonprofit organization, and plans to construct a permanent medical clinic in Honduras now exist.

Belle Terre resident Jackie Gernaey, who has made the trip once before, attended the last visit to Honduras, from Dec. 31, 2016, to Jan. 10.

“It ends up turning into a giant village celebration when we show up,” Graugh said. “It’s not really a party, but they all get dressed up; they’re cooking food like pre-gaming at a football game.”

Graugh described the circumstances of the group’s annual January trip, which lasts for a week and is funded out of the pockets of the doctors and other volunteers who make the trek. The doctors pack suitcases with medical equipment, medicines, supplies and even crayons and coloring books, to hand out to children while they wait on lines to receive treatment. This year, 18 Americans from across the country joined twice as many Hondurans in setting up shop at the Hospital of San Lorenzo in southern Honduras to administer eye exams to 430 people — most for the removal of cataracts — dental care for more than 600 patients and other medical treatments to the hundreds of villagers. Dental and eye care are of extreme importance to the Honduran people because of a lack of clean water and a blistering hot sun year-round. Cataracts are a common problem for people of all ages.

A Honduran waits to be seen by a physician. Photo from Richard Graugh

Graugh said 12 years ago, it was a small operation started by doctors from Pennsylvania who essentially just asked around to see if anyone was interested in joining.

“We used to go down there and do this, and there would be no real organization behind it apart from people with good intentions and good faith and good skills to help these people,” he said.

A nonprofit organization called Key Humanitarian Initiative for Southern Honduras was established with bases in Virginia and Honduras, as a way to raise more funds for the annual mission. Now, the group is seeking donations and has received a plot of land to establish a permanent medical facility so that groups can make trips to provide care to Hondurans all year.

“Ostensibly, one from North America is astounded by the quality of joy they have in the day that we’re there,” Graugh said of the trips. “I don’t know if they have the joy all of the time, but there is a palpable sense of joy present even though these people live in very poor conditions.”

Despite the joy Graugh said he observes during his time in the country, the mission is far from a happy occurrence for him.

“If I’m totally honest, I always struggle with how important it is to the individual when it happens, but how small of an effect [it is] on the whole grand scale of things,” he said. “Life is hard. Doing this for 12 years, I’ve seen 12-year-olds [turn into] 24-year-olds [who] have two kids of their own. They’re rung out. Life is hard. At the same time they come and they smile.”

Volunteers during their annual medical mission to Honduras. Photo from Richard Graugh

He said beginning and continuing this mission has opened his eyes.

“If you’ve never been to the developing world, there’s a real straightening out of one’s priorities,” he said. “When you come back and we’re all so consumed with so many things and so busy it’s like, ‘did you have food today?’”

Melvin Tejada, one of the founders of KHISH who lives in Honduras, said in an email what the missions mean to the people of Honduras and the group’s mission to provide medical care to people in desperate need.

“[He is] a humble person with a great heart for the poor of my country,” Tejada said of Graugh in an email.

Graugh said he is just glad to be able to help in any way.

“It’s just this real minute part of improvement in their lives,” he said, “but if I can be part of that, it’s enough for me.”

To learn more about KHISH’s cause, to donate or to get involved, visit www.khishprojectvision.com.

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Diane Burkhardt, a member of the North Shore United Methodist Church for the last 11 years, is seen below smiling with children she helps through the organization Life and Hop Haiti. Photo from Hal Low

Don’t let its size fool you — the North Shore United Methodist Church in Wading River may be small, but the variety of outreach and support programs it has reaches across the Island.

“Sometimes there are certain people who are going through a difficult time and I think extending a hand and caring helps restore some hope that things are going to be okay,” said Diane Burkhardt, a member of the church for 11 years who is a retired Shoreham-Wading River middle school teacher. “People are so appreciative and thankful, which makes the whole experience gratifying and fulfilling. It makes you really appreciate what you have, which is humbling.”

Burkhardt said she is fortunate enough to be the team leader for the church’s outreach program, working on volunteer efforts like the Helping Hands Fund, which includes a food pantry that assists about 50 families in the Shoreham-Wading River area on a regular basis, and its back-to-school project, which provided school supplies to 30 children in need this past September.

Volunteers also deliver food to people’s homes, drive those in need to doctor’s appointments, help out with the church’s thrift shop, and deliver meals to and spend time with residents of Maureen’s Haven, a shelter service for homeless adults on the East End.

The North Shore United Methodist Church in Wading River is involved in a myriad of projects from helping its church members to the needy across Long Island. Photo by Giselle Barkley
The North Shore United Methodist Church in Wading River is involved in a myriad of projects from helping its church members to the needy across Long Island. Photo by Giselle Barkley

“Food is tangible, but what comes with it is the intangible quality of hope,” Burkhardt said. “I’m one of a dozen or so active members that are retired and put in a lot of hours because we feel we were all given gifts and skills that can be put to good use helping people.”

Linda McCall, of Center Moriches, has been attending North Shore United Methodist for four years and said she most enjoys spending her time helping those at Maureen’s Haven in Riverhead, while also volunteering through Helping Hands to provide gifts to children and meals to families around Christmas.

“It’s a very small church, and for such a small church we have so many outreach programs going that I found it almost impossible not to get involved,” she said. “It’s one of the things that keep me happy to be here on the Island. I moved here from Las Vegas, so I don’t have any family here, and the church has become my family. Volunteering fills my days with joy and happiness.”

Priscilla Hartman, a Shoreham resident who has been attending services for the last 35 years, said that as the church’s team leader for its membership care program, she finds it rewarding when she can help someone.

The program helps church members get to the pharmacy when they are temporarily ill, don’t have transportation or otherwise can’t leave the house. Volunteers also cook for them or clean their houses.

“It’s a great feeling when we’re helping a homeless person or someone who is down on their luck and seeing them get back on their feet,” she said. “I’m glad that my church is very ministry-oriented. I think it’s a good way for us to act. We’re a small church, but there’s nothing too large for us to take on.”

One example is the church’s partnering with Life and Hope Haiti, an organization founded by Lucia Anglade of West Babylon, who formed the Eben Ezer School in her hometown of Milot, Haiti.

Donna Eddy, who runs a craft group and is also involved with Maureen’s Haven and the thrift shop, said it’s these relationships people make with other community members and those they help that count in life and define who they are.

“I think we are all wired to need and to learn from each other,” she said. “You can’t love, have forgiveness, experience kindness, faithfulness and unselfishness unless you’re involved in the community. People need other people.”

And one person everyone at North Shore United Methodist agreed they need, is Burkhardt.

The North Shore United Methodist Church in Wading River gets together food for the less fortunate during the holidays. Photo from Hal Low
The North Shore United Methodist Church in Wading River gets together food for the less fortunate during the holidays. Photo from Hal Low

“She has an incredible amount of energy and her enthusiasm is infectious,” Pastor Hal Low said. “Nothing ever seems to daunt her. She’s an inspiration to others, including myself.”

Eddy agrees.

“She’s focused, driven and she makes you want to be the best that you can be and give all that you can, because that’s what she does,” she said. “She’s a wonderful model She gives selflessly her time, her energy. If you need something, Diane will be there. You can count on her.”

But Burkhardt doesn’t want to take any of the credit, because she said without the rest of the organization, there would be no outreach ministry.

“I’m part of a whole congregation and I couldn’t do anything alone,” she said, adding that other churchgoers also help by recycling cans and bottles to raise money for lunches for the children in Haiti for instance. Members are also currently providing dinner to children whose parents are both in the hospital while the father is ill, and have been helping transport a man in Bellport, previously of Maureen’s Haven and a home in Middle Island, to and from Sunday services since 2011.

Burkhardt said that she frequently recalls things Shoreham resident and longtime churchgoer Doris Olson used to tell her when she was heavily involved in outreach in her younger years.

“Whenever I’m dealing with someone that can maybe be hard to deal with, she always said, ‘God made that person, too,’ and that brings me right back in touch with what I’m really doing and why I’m going it,” Burkhardt said. “Every day, try to be a blessing to someone else.”

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