Coming Together

0:00 This time of year, we remember the needy most of all. Letter boxes are stuffed with checks to charitable organizations; collection bins are full […]

Published December 14, 2023 5:58 PM
5 min read

0:00

This time of year, we remember the needy most of all. Letter boxes are stuffed with checks to charitable organizations; collection bins are full of food, gently used clothing, and wrapped toys. We are a community of givers. 

We are also a community graced with dedicated, loving, and keenly intelligent religious leaders, who give us reason to hope, care, and contribute.

Every time a new member joins Rye Presbyterian Church, longtime Co-Pastor Dan Love asks him or her: “What are you looking for? Community?  Spirituality?” 

Rev. Love offered, “The never-ending challenge is to connect people in meaningful ways. That challenge sustains me.”

Rev. John Miller, who joined Love as co-pastor 11 years ago, added, “What excites me is the congregation’s openness to new things and our ability to pivot. It is easy to envision us as a big, old, stodgy church, but we are very nimble for a church our size.” 

With 1,000 members, Rye Presbyterian Church is by far the largest of the 72 churches in the Presbytery of Hudson River. “We represent 11 percent of the Presbytery. Fortunately,” joked Rev. Love, “our members don’t all show up at the same time.” 

While regular attendance is down at churches and synagogues across the country, Rye Presbyterian, like many, has successfully expanded its mission and outreach. New members are flocking to theology programs; longtime members are filling Sunday night and Monday morning Bible study classes. “Confirmation classes have reached an eight-year high,” reported Rev. Miller. “And, on their own, young mothers have started a preschool playground group here. Fellowship happens without us, too.” 

Shepherding a congregation that includes many who are well into their late 80s and early 90s explains why the co-pastors are such familiar faces at The Osborn. 

But how to do ministry in a post-Covid world remains a challenge. Before the pandemic, Rev. Miller taught at Sing Sing Correctional Facility in Ossining, and, nearly four years later, is still not permitted to return to in-person instruction. He said, “We forged connections that were important for them and me. Virtual meetings are not the same.”

What excites Msgr. Donald Dwyer, who has been a priest for 44 years and pastor of Resurrection Church since 2011, is leading a very active and generous congregation. “The first thing Cardinal Dolan said to me when he visited Resurrection was ‘one of the things that distinguishes your parish is its outreach.’ ” That includes the 800 meals the parish serves on Thanksgiving to POTS recipients in the Bronx, the annual collection named after former pastor Patrick Boyle to help the poor and needy of Westchester, and eight full and 10 partial scholarships they provide at Resurrection School. 

Last year, Resurrection, through the generosity of its members, provided scholarships to three Ukrainian refugees. “One of those girls is runner-up for the English Arts Award,” Msgr. Dwyer noted.

“Our strengths are many,” he said with pride. “We’re helping pay the legal expenses of immigrants trying to get green cards. We have a relatively young congregation — 465 kids in the school, 750 in religious instruction, 150 baptisms in 2022, and big confirmation classes. Over 100 women are taking part in our Walking with Purpose program. They study the Bible and assist with church events.” 

On a recent Friday, Resurrection held a mother-son hoedown — over 170 came to line dance. The church hosts successful gatherings like that monthly.

Msgr. Dwyer is always ready to expand ministry and help his parishioners — 2,400 in all — put faith into practice.

Rabbi Daniel Gropper, now in his 21st year at the helm of Community Synagogue of Rye, is grounded in ancient teachings and dedicated to translating them to speak to modern lives. “I look forward to helping people see Judaism giving them greater meaning.”

Through what Gropper calls “long life learning” programs, congregants are given every opportunity to engage in meaningful discussion. Twice a week, since 2005, the Synagogue has offered SAJE (Senior Activities in a Jewish Environment) lunchtime meetings. This year, Rabbi Gropper has been teaching a course called Modern Midlife Mavens for ages 45 to 65, “through the lens of Jewish wisdom,” he explained. Every Thursday, he and Christ’s Church Rector Kate Malin teach an interfaith class that is open to all. There are midday Hebrew classes and a midday book club, an early morning Bible class, and Torah study. 

In addition to caring for his flock of 450 households, Rabbi Gropper is dedicated to nurturing the close relationships the Synagogue has developed with the Carver Center, especially its Dinner at Noon program, and the Sharing Shelf, also in Port Chester. “Food insecurity is a tremendous issue, and we collect staples for donation all year long,” he said. 

Increasing literacy is another of the Synagogue’s missions. CS Reads volunteers go into Port Chester schools and work with students whose first language is not English, he said. 

Talking with Rabbi Gropper, it is easy to see that education is outreach.

Christ’s Church Rector Kate Malin said she operates on “the say-yes-to everything” principle. “What is a church called to do? Message healing and comfort through scripture and tradition.” She added, “We must be a connecting point between God and who we serve. How can we be braver about Jesus? About spreading his love, grace, and compassion?”

Committed to making sure “Christ’s Church is a place of joy,” Rector Malin also makes sure that the church is part of a community she “feels blessed to live in and serve.” 

Connection to that larger community comes in many forms — the annual Christmas tree sale, bringing the church to Wainwright House every August, Tuesday afternoon services at The Osborn, hosting the Boy Scouts, delivering invocations at many public events, and, every summer, offering space for Rye Recreation Kiddy Camp and an eight-week camp for Port Chester children.

“There are more obstacles to gathering in a church once a week,” she remarked. “Sunday morning is no longer sacred. So, we have to seize every opportunity to go out in the community and meet people where they are.” Malin praised her “amazing” verger, Crispian Thorne, for his creative thinking toward that mission.

At Christ’s Church, high school students now teach the entire Sunday School program and oversee the youth grantmaking organization.

While expanding her skills, Rector Malin has discovered that she has expanded the skills of others.

“Only connect” is a theme throughout E.M. Forster’s classic works of fiction; it is also the resounding message of Rye’s spiritual leaders.

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