Members of a Three Village church are recalling its history with a significant milestone around the corner.
The Setauket United Methodist Church, located on the northeast corner of Route 25A and Main Street and known locally as the “light on the hill,” will be celebrating its 175th anniversary Oct. 14 with a special service.
Congregants originally gathered in a schoolhouse in 1835 not far from its present location, according to church documents. The Methodist Society of Setauket was formed by Alfred Darling, Peter Darling, Charles Darling, William Cargill and Richard Terrell after attending a revival in Port Jefferson in 1843.
They first purchased what was known as the Baptist Meeting House on the corner, and in 1869 members who were employed in the local shipbuilding industry began building the current church when it was agreed that a bigger building was needed. The congregants sold the old church in 1869 and moved the building across Route 25A. The new building was dedicated Oct. 12, 1870.
Dennis Hutchinson was baptized in the church in 1939 and has been a member all his life. Through the years, he said he has seen the congregation, which currently includes approximately 500 members according to Rev. Steven Kim, grow due to developing surrounding communities and at times shrink.
Hutchinson said he remembers many renovations through the decades, including a new steeple that cost $16,000 in the late ’70s. At a horse show organized by philanthropist Ward Melville, Isaac Lyness, a member of the church, attended the event and was able to meet Melville and tell him about the steeple and the church’s historic significance in Setauket. Melville gave $4,000 to help pay for the new steeple.
“That was quite a generous gift at the time,” Hutchinson said.
Through the decades, church members held various fundraisers including fairs and bake sales, and Hutchinson said local residents always remember how the church would sell clam chowder in the spring. He said one year they made 600 quarts of chowder.
Cecelia Lundquist said during the last 10 years the church members have redecorated the sanctuary and installed a handicapped elevator. Lundquist and her husband, Bob, have been members since 1967 when they moved back to Long Island after her husband was briefly transferred to Virginia. A lawyer they knew from their church in Brooklyn told them about Setauket and suggested they join the church.
“We became members of the Setauket United Methodist Church more than 50 years ago,” Lundquist said. “It has been the center of our lives, both spiritually and socially.”
Barbara Thomas has been a member of the church since she attended as a child, and she remembers when the children would meet under the sanctuary for a brief service in the basement hall named after Samuel Gurney, a missionary with family in the area. The service would be followed by classes.
“I remember long velvet drapes that divided the classrooms,” Thomas said. “The drapes were hung from wire which ran from the walls to the columns that braced the church.”
Thomas said the church bought Mechanics Hall, a building near Main Street that was converted into a parsonage for the pastor, and when the Sunday school and church membership grew during World War II, to accommodate the growing congregation, an addition was built to connect what then became the former parsonage. It was named after Carl J. Norton, who once produced Christmas pageants for the church. With the addition, the church now had two offices, and the former parsonage was named after early members of the church, the VanBrunt family.
“I am still a part of this wonderful little church and sometimes I witness the return of former members,” Thomas said. “I remember with fondness the men and women who have come to guide us through the years as pastors, and I remember the many sisters and brothers who have graced the church and been a loving family to me.”
There have been approximately 75 pastors through the decades. Rev. Kim has led the congregation since 2016 and said he is looking forward to the anniversary.
“I hope people would rediscover the significance of the great spiritual heritage that has run through Setauket Methodist Church upon our 175th Anniversary,” Kim said.
Hutchinson will speak on the day of the service. He said he let Kim know he has a lot to share.
“In my little talk that I’m going to give on that Sunday, I have so many things [to share] but I should try to get them home by dark,” Hutchinson said.
The anniversary service will be held Oct. 14 at 10 a.m. at the church located at 160 Main St., East Setauket. The service will include sharing memories, guest preachers, a luncheon and a
performance by musicians from The Jazz Loft. For more information about Setauket United Methodist Church and the anniversary service, visit www.setauketumc.org or call 631-941-4167.