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Setauket United Methodist Church

Palms left by the door of All Souls Episcopal Church in Stony Brook. Photo from All Souls Episcopal

Since the middle of March, houses of worship have had to find other ways to stay connected with their congregations during the COVID-19 pandemic. We asked local clergy members how alternative methods have been working and what is on the minds of their congregants.

Setauket United Methodist Church

The Rev. Steven Kim, of Setauket United Methodist Church, is just one pastor who is using modern technology. He said COVID-19 can make connectivity or interaction difficult.

“A church is not an exception,” he said. “Since the pandemic broke out, our ministry has been focused on helping the parishioners feel connected with their church family. Technology is a key player in pursuing this goal. It has enabled us to continue worshiping, keep meetings, continue our bible study and have prayer gatherings all online.”

Kim said the church is also trying to serve the community through prayer and other supportive ways. Church members have sent encouragement cards to medical crews, first responders and police officers in the community and delivered pizza to the medical crew at the intensive care unit at Stony Brook University Hospital. 

“The current crisis challenges us to deepen our understanding of a faith community which is rooted in our society,” Kim said.

Setauket Presbyterian Church

The Rev. Kate Jones Calone, interim pastor at Setauket Church, said the congregation at Setauket Presbyterian Church reflected on the theme of “wilderness” during the season of Lent.

“After the impact of the coronavirus became more real for us locally, our wrestling as a faith community with what it means to be in the “wilderness” obviously took on new meaning,” Jones Calone said. “We’ve been contemplating questions like: how do the various stories involving wilderness in scripture guide and challenge and sustain us during this time? Where are God and grace present in the wilderness? What does our church/community/world look like on the other side of a wilderness experience?”

Jones Calone said the experience reminds them that “the church is not a building but a community of people who share deep connection through their faith in a God of love.” Church members love one another and their neighbors by staying home, worshipping and meeting virtually, and comforting those who are sick, hurting, grieving and serving. The congregation also created an Emergency Assistance Fund to help those in need.

“This crisis has further exposed deep societal inequities around economic disparity, poverty, race and health care, and makes systemic transformation even more urgent,” she said.

All Souls Episcopal Church, Stony Brook

Daniel Kerr, a senior warden with All Souls Episcopal Church in Stony Brook, has been leading Sunday morning virtual prayers at 8 and 9:30 a.m. on the church’s website. He said All Souls also held virtual Good Friday, Easter Vigils and Easter morning services. The live, interactive, virtual services have featured the few who can participate taking turns reading from the scripture and leading the prayers.

“Believe it or not, we have had more folks attending the virtual services than we normally get on Sundays in ‘normal times,’” Kerr said.

He added that many who usually attend the church’s concerts, poetry readings and Shamanic Drumming events have also been tuning in to the virtual services, as well as people from New Hampshire, Florida and the Carolinas.

On Palm Sunday, he said the palms normally distributed at the Mass were left on the church’s porch with a sign encouraging people to take them. Kerr said all of the palms were taken by the following Tuesday morning.

Kerr added that at the end of the services, participants are asked to share their reflections on how they are doing during this time.

“Quite often they say these services have helped them feel connected to the extended All Souls community and less isolated and alone in their homes during social distancing,” Kerr said.

Unitarian Universalist Fellowship at Stony Brook

Linda Anderson, a minister affiliated with the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship at Stony Brook, who also works with the South Nassau Unitarian Universalist congregation, said during this time she has needed to find new ways to serve congregants. In addition to calling, texting and sending emails to members, worship services as well as other meetings have been made available online.

Anderson said many have lost people in their lives, or fear they will, and have thought about their own deaths. 

“I hear the sadness that death brings,” she said. “The stress of grief affects our bodies in that we might feel more tired, have chest pains, upset stomachs, headaches. The stress of grief can make it hard for us to focus or make decisions. Our emotions can be all over the place, ranging from numbness to anger, from sorrow to relief.”

For those who fear their own deaths, she said it’s important to talk about their lives such as what they are proud of, what regrets they may have, what they think their legacy is and more. 

“It is a relief for folks to talk about these things out loud because they sure are thinking about them,” she said.

She said while the past holiday season had its challenges, the biblical story she found to be most relevant to congregants was that of the Israelites wandering in the desert.

“It feels like we too wander in the desert of COVID-19, uncertain of what will come next but holding onto a faith that we will indeed emerge from this,” Anderson said.

Trinity Lutheran Church, Rocky Point

The Rev. Peter Boehringer of Trinity Lutheran Church said the house of worship has used various online platforms for Sunday school, confirmation classes, First Communion, committee meetings and more. The church’s worship services are recorded and broadcasted on Facebook and YouTube.

He said the congregants see “the virus as something that falls within the realm of our interaction with nature.”

“Where we see God working is in the incredible compassion, empathy and commitment of people who have responded to the great challenges of this contagion with love,” he said. “If one takes the Easter message seriously, the idea that God is somehow punishing us, or the world, is negated. Our Lord does not promise that we will never be ill, or escape all disaster, etc., what is promised is the presence of the Holy Spirit in these things, that we may endure them and be a blessing to those around us.”

Village Chabad, East Setauket

Rabbit Motti Grossbaum said celebrating Passover this week was different than in the past.

“The question we ask at our Seder tables, ‘Why is this night different than all other nights?’ is ringing especially true at the present time,” he said. “We are doing our best to help the local community observe the holiday to the best degree possible as there is no reason we should Passover, Passover. Unfortunately as a Jewish people, we have been through challenges in our history, and the dedication that our ancestors had to our traditions and our heritage serves an inspiration to us during these challenging times to observe our faith despite the challenges. And when we do, we see that our connection to God and our faith gives us the hope we need to carry us through.”

Like other houses of worship, Village Chabad is using technology for services, education and counseling to members of all ages. Due to the pandemic, the rabbis have had to use technology to visit the sick and help families grieve virtually.

The rabbi had some words of hope. 

“While we cannot attempt to explain the reasoning for suffering and for COVID-19, we could attempt to find glimmers of hope and lessons of inspiration from our current world,” he said. “One obvious one is this. The world at large is currently united with one single focus. Crossing geographic divides, languages, cultures, races and even political differences, the world is currently united with one singular concern, goal and prayer. We are seeing how we are all responsible for each other and only together, will we bring an end to this. This is reminding us to set aside our differences and find the common humanity in every single human being on our planet. Every one of us are intrinsically good and together we will also reveal the intrinsic goodness of our world.”

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The old steeple is taken down Nov. 15 and replaced with a new one. Photo by Beverly C. Tyler

By Beverly C. Tyler

Setauket United Methodist Church at the corner of Main Street and Route 25A sits as a beacon and a guide to the historic community around it known as Chicken Hill. This is a place that had its roots in mid-19th century industrial America with first the Nunns & Clark piano factory and its primarily German workforce, followed in the same five-story brick factory by the Long Island Rubber Company which initially hired Irish and African American workers. Later Russian Jews and Eastern European Catholic immigrants flooding into New York City were hired for a workforce that, at its peak, totaled more than 500.

Setauket United Methodist Church steeple being painted in 1925 by Clinton West, left, Herman Aldrich, right, and Ray Tyler, at top. Photo from Beverly C. Tyler

Three Village Historical Society president, Steve Healy, said he was approached by the church’s pastor, the Rev. Steven Kim, who knew about the society’s exhibit, Chicken Hill: A Community Lost to Time. Kim asked if the society would be interested in the church’s steeple as it was to be taken down and replaced by a new one.

“I thought it would be nice to include a portion of the steeple, with the cross on top, in the exhibit, to show that this church was a focal point of Chicken Hill, right in the middle of these working-class immigrants,” Healy said.

The steeple, weighing about 700 pounds, consisted of the aluminum skin and the interior framing. The exterior skin was separated from the inside structure and moved by trailer to the historical society’s headquarters on North Country Road.

“We decided to take all 32 feet and later decide what will be used in the exhibit,” Healy said. “It’s a historical artifact that people can touch and a fascinating addition to our exhibit in the history center.”

One of the goals of the historical society is to bring the history of the local community to life and to excite and engage people. The society also wants visitors to its exhibits to discover what they want to remember and what they need to remember. The artifacts and documents in the Chicken Hill exhibit illustrate the cooperative community that existed at Chicken Hill as well as the societal problems that existed in and around that area. Bringing people of diverse ethnicity, race and religion here to live and work together provides a wealth of stories.

The Chicken Hill exhibit tells the stories of harmony and conflict together with individual stories of pride, compassion and humor. The addition of the church steeple will help to bring the storytelling full circle.

Beverly C. Tyler is Three Village Historical Society historian and author of books available from the society at 93 North Country Road, Setauket. For more information, call 631-751-3730 or visit www.tvhs.org.

Setauket United Methodist Church circa. 1909. Mechanics Hall, which was once used as a parsonage, is to the right. Photo from Three Village Historical Society

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.

Setauket United Methodist Church as it looked today. Photo from Setauket United Methodist Church

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.

The original steeple of the 1870 church building is being painted by Ray Tyle, who was a local photographer and artist known for his aerial photographs commonly taken from the tops of flagpoles and other tall structures. Photo from Three Village Historical Society

“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.