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Rev. Mary Speers

Mary Speers says goodbye to a congregant of Setauket Presbyterian Church. Photo from Facebook

As the congregants of Setauket Presbyterian Church look to the future, one pastor has her mind on retirement.

The Rev. Mary Speers, 65, who pastored at the church for nearly six years, said her last sermon in Setauket Nov. 30. Temporarily taking over the role as interim pastor is Kate Jones Calone who is known for her work with the Open Door Exchange, an outreach program of the church created to collect furniture to distribute to those in need.

After members of Setauket Presbyterian conducted its most recent mission study and put together a five-year plan, Speers started asking herself if she wanted to work another five years, considering she was thinking of retiring in May when she turns 66.

The Rev. Mary Speers, left holding dog, at a past Christmas Eve Manger Service at Setauket Presbyterian Church. Photo from Mary Speers

The reverend said she was already researching houses in Baltimore. Speers said she wished to move there due to a lot of social justice work needing to be done in the city, along with her love for small-city life. The pastor said if she bought a home before she retired, she could rent it out.

When she decided it would be best for Setauket Presbyterian church members to find someone who would be there for the long haul, she called the Presbytery office in Maryland to see if there were any churches looking for an interim pastor. She said soon after her request, she received a call that congregants of a church in the city were looking for someone. Around the same time, her real estate agent found a home for her.

She said the church members of Setauket Presbyterian understood her need to move as soon as possible and for the small Maryland church’s need for a pastor after theirs left in July 2018.

“They said, ‘You know what, why don’t you let them have a pastor for Advent,’” she said. “‘We’ll be fine.’ That was really sweet of them.”

Speers said she’ll miss pastoring at Setauket Presbyterian Church, where she described the congregants as “putting feet on faith.”

“The congregation is absolutely wonderful,” she said. “They are so involved in the running of the place.”

The pastor said after working and living in Setauket since February of 2013, in addition to the church members, she will miss her time in the Three Village area where she kayaked and picked beach plums at West Meadow Beach, with which she made jam.

Debra Dwyer, an elder with the church, said she switched churches three years ago and credits Speers with her becoming a member of Setauket Presbyterian. She described the pastor as strong and passionate.

Dwyer said she and one of her daughters Emily visited the church on one Youth Mission Sunday during which young church members reported about their recent mission trip to Washington, D.C., to work with the homeless. Based on that visit, Dwyer and her daughter came back one day when Speers was preaching.

“She preached on social issues,” the church elder said. “She applied the bible and scripture in a way that I was so impressed. What she was able to do was get a message out that was truly Christian and that was truly socially just in a way that was not controversial so that everyone could hear it.”

While Dwyer will miss Speers, she said she admires Jones Calone for her peace and justice missions and looks forward to her pastoring.

“For us, this is just a family member getting promoted,” she said.

Speers said she knows Jones Calone will do great in her role as interim pastor because she knows the church’s dynamics.

“She has a great head on her shoulder,” she said. “She’s very pastoral, but she also has excellent boundaries.”

The members of Setauket Presyterian Church welcomed interim pastor Kate Jones Calone with a cake. Photo by Sandy Bond

Jones Calone, 44, who is a wife and mother of three children ranging in age from 7 to 13, has been involved in the church since 2011 when she started as an assistant pastor. She was in the role for nearly five years, and during that time, launched and became the director of Open Door Exchange.

“I’m incredibly so grateful and excited to be serving Setauket Presbyterian Church in this point in the life of the congregation,” she said.

During this transitional time, she said she is excited to help the congregants, whom she described as loving and dedicated, with their plans, which include figuring out how to help people connect with their faith in new ways. She said the church will continue its mission to learn how they can be good stewards of the funds they receive.

In addition to running the Open Door Exchange, every Wednesday the church members volunteer at Welcome Friends Soup Kitchen in Port Jefferson, which serves hot, homemade meals with volunteers from several area churches.

Jones Calone, who officially became interim pastor Jan. 9, said Speers will be missed, and she always appreciated her support when Open Door Exchange was initiated.

“Mary brought a real creativity in her leadership in a lot of different ways, including worship, and I always appreciated that,” Jones Calone said. “I also think about how I really appreciated when we came to her and said, ‘We have this idea for starting this new outreach program.’ She never hesitated and said, ‘Let’s do it. Let’s figure out a way to make this happen, what kind of support do you need.’”

By Rita J. Egan

William Shakespeare once compared a good deed to a candle’s beam, writing it shined in a weary world.

The power of a good dead is something members of Temple Isaiah’s Social Action Committee have known for decades. For the last 20 years, they have organized a cleanup at West Meadow Beach in Setauket, according to Iris Schiff, the committee’s chairwoman.

Once calling the volunteer opportunity “Mitzvah Day,” the group has now dubbed it “Good Deeds Day” occurred April 15. But the Stony Brook temple usually celebrates it later in the month when days are a bit warmer. Schiff said this year the Stony Brook temple invited congregants of Setauket Presbyterian Church to join them. On April 29, after a communal brunch at the synagogue, a handful of volunteers headed to the beach.

“We are hoping that other faiths will join with us in the future.”

— Barbara Curtis

Barbara Curtis, a member of Setauket Presbyterian who organized church volunteers, was on hand with bag in hand.

“A good deeds day brings our faith communities together in the very best way,” Curtis said. “We are hoping that other faiths will join with us in the future.”

Rev. Mary Barrett Speers, pastor of Setauket Presbyterian Church, said in an email the beach was the perfect spot for the joint community project.

“I personally love the idea because all God’s children share God’s earth,” Barrett Speers said. “We all love West Meadow Beach, and right after Earth Day, what better way is there to celebrate our beach than by caring for it?”

Schiff said the beach was in excellent condition, and after a couple of hours of cleaning up, they only had about a half a dozen bags filled with bottle tops, balloons, cans and random pieces of plastic.

She said the cleanup wasn’t the only good deed of the day. In the morning, children from the temple painted and decorated wood crates and donated them to Setauket Presbyterian Church’s Open Door Exchange, an outreach program which redistributes furniture to those in need. A few families also volunteered with Great Strides Long Island, Inc.at Saddle Rock Ranch in Middle Island, a nonprofit organization that helps developmentally disabled children ride horses.

After the beach cleanup, Schiff said she felt good about the day.

“Everybody was just right on the same page and feeling the same way,” she said. “I’m really hoping that next year we’re able to expand this and bring in some of the other faith communities.”

Kenny Rogers, left, begins his 277-mile journey to raise fund for mattresses with Eli Kopp who joined him on the first 14 miles. Photo from Kate Jones Calone

Step by step, a Stony Brook man is helping to provide a comfortable place to sleep for those in need.

On Sept. 25, 66-year-old Kenny Rogers embarked on a 277-mile walking trip dubbed Miles for Mattresses to raise funds for the Open Door Exchange — an outreach program of the Setauket Presbyterian Church created to collect furniture to distribute to those in need. Rogers said his goal is to raise $22,021 to purchase mattresses and box springs for the 177 people on the furniture bank’s waiting list for the items. The hope is that the walk will generate buzz and inspire donors to contribute to the cause. The organization has an agreement with Big Lots to purchase mattress and box spring sets for an average of $159.

Rogers’ 277-mile mission began at Wider Circle, which the Long Island furniture bank is modeled after, in Silver Spring, Maryland, and will end Oct. 14 at the Open Door Exchange in Port Jefferson Station. Rogers, who is retired from the Suffolk County Department of Social Services and volunteers with Open Door Exchange, said it feels good to be able to give to others. He said it was frustrating at his former job to help people find housing but then they were on their own when it came to furnishings.

Kenny Rogers has been training for his journey since January. Photo from Kate Jones Calone

The Rev. Kate Jones Calone, director of Open Door Exchange, said more than half a dozen congregants of Setauket Presbyterian Church, of which Rogers is a member, and volunteers from Wider Circle were on hand to cheer him on, and a handful of them walked the first couple of miles with him, while others stayed behind to help out at Wider Circle.

“We had a wonderful reception from Wider Circle,” Calone said.

Arlene Rogers, who accompanied her husband to Maryland, said she was proud of him.

“He has a very big generous heart,” she said. “He is very determined. When he says he’s going to do something, he does it. I back him wholeheartedly.”

Eli Kopp, who turned 14 Sept. 25 and is an eighth-grader at Paul J. Gelinas Junior High School, also traveled to Maryland to walk the first 14 miles with Rogers.

“It’s really great that Kenny had the idea to do this walk as a way to raise money for Open Door Exchange,” Eli said. “Open Door Exchange is a great organization that helps so many people who are in need and helping out there is also a lot of fun.”

Rogers said he’ll mostly travel along US Route 1, and along the way he’ll stop at churches to eat and rest. Setauket Presbyterian’s pastor the Rev. Mary Speers, and Calone networked with churches along the route to coordinate the accommodations.

Rogers said he started preparing for the trip in January by walking two miles around his neighborhood and then he slowly increased the distance. Right before his 277-mile mission, he was walking the more than three-mile Setauket-Port Jefferson Station Greenway Trail both ways with a backpack three quarters filled with weights. Walking didn’t always come easy for Rogers. He said the first few years of his life he was unable to do so, and doctors thought he might have cerebral palsy. However, when he was 4 years old, he said he just started walking one day.

Miles for Mattresses is the second walk he has organized to raise money for charity. In May 2016, Rogers traveled 50 miles on foot from his childhood neighborhood of Chelsea, Brooklyn, to Stony Brook to raise funds for the American Cancer Society in honor of his best friend who died of lung cancer.

Eli Koop, right, joined Rogers on the first 14 miles of the walk to celebrate his birthday Sept. 25. Photo from Kate Jones Calone

Speers said church members and others were supportive of his last walk and she knows his current one will be a success, too.

“The Setauket Presbyterian Church is very giving especially when it’s for a mission or to help people,” Speers said. “They’ll open up their pockets for that. So, the church gave a lot, and lots of his friends and just people in his world, his former co-workers, people like that really gave a lot, and he felt good doing it.”

The pastor said she was unable to join Rogers in Maryland due to recent hip surgery, so she is looking forward to joining him and others at the end of his trip, even if she needs a golf cart to do so.

“It should be a lot of fun,” Speers said. ”It would be like a victory lap.”

Rogers said while he’s looking forward to seeing everyone at the end of his walk, the end of such a mission leaves him with mixed feelings.

“When you’re done with it — you prepared for something like this — when it’s over, it’s a let down,” Rogers said. “I feel good that I did it, but now what do I do? This is what I’ve been working for a certain amount of time.”

Calone said Setauket Presbyterian congregants are in awe of Rogers.

“It’s just so inspiring,” Calone said. “Kenny is just this wonderfully positive and energetic and selfless and generous person who just thinks about really concrete ways that he can help people, and he’s done that his whole life.”

The Open Door Exchange will post updates on Miles for Mattresses on its Facebook page. At press time, Rogers had already raised nearly $8,000 toward his goal. For more information or to donate online, visit www.facebook.com/opendoorexchange or www.opendoorexchange.org.

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