Tag Archive | "First Presbyterian Church"

Baritone Michael Maliakel to Sing at Sag Harbor’s Old Whalers’ Church

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Vocalist Michael Maliakel will sing at the Old Whalers' Church in Sag Harbor Sunday.

Vocalist Michael Maliakel will sing at the Old Whalers’ Church in Sag Harbor Sunday.

By Tessa Raebeck

Operatic baritone Michael Maliakel will appear as the guest soloist at Sunday’s 10 a.m. worship service at the Old Whalers’ Church, Sag Harbor’s First Presbyterian Church.

Mr. Maliakel sang as De Brétigny in the Peabody Opera Theatre production of Massenet’s Manon and was praised for his “smooth singing” by the Baltimore Sun. A New Jersey native, Mr. Maliakel recently made his first solo appearance in Musica Viva of New York’s January performance of the Duruflé Messe Cum Jubilo.

Walter Klauss, minister of music at All Souls Unitarian Church in Manhattan since 1976, will accompany Mr. Maliakel, who will perform two of the “Five Mystical Songs” by 20th century British composer Ralph Vaughan Williams.

The Old Whalers’ Church is located at 44 Union Street in Sag Harbor. For more information, call the Reverend Mark Phillips at 725-0894.

The Story of the Iranians in Oakland Cemetery

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By Pamela Vail Lawson

“Did you know there are two Iranian princes buried in Sag Harbor, in Oakland Cemetery? Why are they there?”

A friend asked me this several months ago and I said I would look into it.

Yes, there they were, buried not far from George Balanchine’s grave: Manucher Farmanfarmaian, 1917-2003 and his younger brother, Abol Bashar Farmanfarmaian, 1921-1991, Princes of Iran. And so I began a fascinating lesson in Iranian history.

Their father, Prince Abdol Hussein Mirza Farman Farma, had eight wives and 36 children: his third wife, Batoul Khanoum, was the mother of both Manucher and Abol Bashar. A half sister, Sattereh Farman Farmaian, describes vividly the early years in her book, Daughters of Persia. The Farmafarmaians were wealthy, and members of the reigning royal family, the Qajar Dynasty. The wives had their own houses within the spacious compound in Tehran, surrounded by a 10-foot wall. The prolific father, respectfully called Shazdeh (Prince) by the immediate family members, was a high-ranking officer in the Iranian army before he retired, as the Shah was wary of anyone that might take part in the overthrowing of his reign. Later he served as Minister of War and Prime Minister.

He kept a vast household of over 700, including wives, children, countless paid servants, secretaries and all those who had served him in the past. Every Friday, the children of all the households would line up according to their age and Shazdeh would question them about their studies and have them recite a Persian poem that he had assigned to each one to memorize the week before. Education was considered of premier importance to their father – in most families girls were not educated, but Satti and her sister and half sisters were sent to school.

However, it was the boys of the family that received further education and were sent abroad to England to study at the university level. Satti, however, was eventually able to be the first Persian (the name of the country was changed from Persia to Iran in 1935) to study at the University of Southern California, earning an advanced degree in social work, and returning to Iran to found the School of Social Work…but that is another story.

Her half brother, Manucher, was sent first to France and later studied petroleum engineering at Birmingham University. Upon his return to Iran he became Director General of Petroleum, Concessions and Mines, and in 1958 became Director of Sales for the newly formed National Iranian Oil Company. Iran had gained in prominence especially for the great oil field at Abadan which fueled the British Royal Navy and has the one overland route by which supplies would be sent to Russia during World War II. Manucher played an important part in the founding of OPEC and became Iran’s first Ambassador to Venezuela. On a personal note, he married Verla Gean Miller, an American, in 1952 and had one daughter, Roxane, but the couple parted and eventually divorced. He married again in 1965 to Petronella Kahman, who was on the staff of the Dutch Embassy in Tehran. Two sons were born, Alexander and Teymour, but the couple decided to live separately in 1977, with Petronella choosing to reside in Paris.

But in 1979 life in Iran changed radically, when the Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi was overthrown. Like his father, Reza Shah, the first of the Pahlavi Shahs, he had attempted for years to secularize and westernize Iran. Traditional dress was banned, forcing men and women to don western clothing. Women who continued to wear the chador had them removed from their hands and torn into pieces; nomadic tribes were forcibly settled. Many mosques were closed, and newspapers were shut down. The cleric who led the religious revolt against Mohammed Reza Shah in 1963, the Ayatollah Khomini, was arrested and eventually deported from the country.

By 1978, the people of Iran had had enough and the protests against the Shah’s rule were overwhelming. In 1979 the Shah and Queen Farah left the country, followed closely by the return of Ayatollah Khomini, who was greeted by enormous crowds. Manucher Farmanfarmaian also fled the country, returning to Caracas, Venezuela, where he founded a factory for the manufacture of potato chips. His daughter Roxane, with a Ph.D. from Cambridge University, is a writer and lecturer on Iran, and together with her father wrote the book Blood and Oil; Alexander, educated at Princeton, is a fund manager; and Teymour, educated at the Harvard Business School and Duke University, is a sales executive with Google.

Abol Bashar, Manucher’s younger brother, also grew up in the family compound in Tehran and obtained a Ph.D. in Political Science from the University of Chicago and a JD from Columbia School of Law. Returning to Iran in 1956, he practiced international law and taught law at Tehran University School of Law. In 1957 he proposed marriage to Monir Shahroudy; a beautiful young Iranian artist who had come to New York in hopes of eventually reaching Paris, but established a career in the city and made many friends.

Monir had had an unhappy marriage and Abol Bashar had served as the babysitter often to her little daughter, Nima. The proposal came as a surprise, but he persisted and many of the Farmanfarmaian sisters reassured her that he was indeed serious. Abol persuaded Monir to come to Iran for a visit. She did, and after a whirlwind courtship, married him.

In her new home in Iran, Monir saw that her husband had included a studio for her where she was able to focus on her art. She had exhibitions both in Iran and in New York and a second daughter, Zahra, was born; it was a very happy marriage.

But by 1979, the uprising against the Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi and those who supported him were growing at an alarming rate, and it was decided that it was time to leave the country, hoping it would not be permanent. Leaving behind all their possessions, they were fortunate to be able to get on a plane headed for Paris, knowing that it would be easier to then fly to New York where they both had lived and still had many friends. Slowly they put their lives together again – no large house with servants but finally an apartment large enough with space for Monir to work.

Special vacation times were spent in Southampton and in Sag Harbor, where Abol Bashar, a devoted sailor, kept a boat and happily sailed the surrounding waters. Manucher would visit from Caracas, and it seemed as if the families were secure. But in 1991, Abol died of advanced leukemia. Monir was devastated, but with the help of her daughter Nima and friends decided to put Abol to rest in Sag Harbor’s beautiful Oakland Cemetery, remembering Abol’s happy sailing days. In 2003, Manucher died in Caracas, and as a second plot had been purchased, was buried next to his brother. As his son, Teymour, said “They could no longer return to their homeland – at least they were together to the end.”

Monir, now in her eighties, has returned to Iran to be with her family, the Shahroudys, and to arrange for an exhibition of her work. She plans to return to New York at some point to visit Sag Harbor.

I recommend anyone interested in reading more details to find the following books: A Mirror Garden by Monir Farmanaian; Blood and Oil by Manucher and Roxane Farmanfarmaian, and Daughter of Persia by Satterah Farman Farmaian.

Pamela Vail Lawson writes for the Historical Committee of the First Presbyterian Church of Sag Harbor, NY.

New Pastor for Old Whalers’ Church

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web MarkPhillips

By Bryan Boyhan

Sag Harbor’s Presbyterian church has several challenges before it; but with an announcement this week, they have one less.

After more than four years without a permanent pastor to lead them, the church has chosen Rev. Mark Francis Phillips to guide the local congregation. Rev. Phillips comes to Sag Harbor from the First Presbyterian Church of Mineral Ridge, Ohio, where he has been since 1994.

While he is expected to start full time at the Old Whalers Church here on April 18, Rev. Phillips spoke in front of the local congregation this past Sunday, and spent time over the weekend meeting its members before they voted unanimously to accept him as their pastor.

The members all appeared impressed with Rev. Phillips, said Susan Blair, chairman of the church’s Pastor Nominating Committee.

“There are no pretensions about him,” said Blair. “It’s just really what you see is what you get.”

The journey to find a new pastor has been a long one, and one where the members have done considerable soul searching. Since its last permanent pastor, Susan McKeegan-Guinn, left in 2005, the church has had a few interim pastors while they established the criteria for a permanent leader.

Early on, the members of the church gathered and spent a day meeting in small groups discussing their hopes for the church and, in broad strokes, imagining a future. From this they established a list of skills, said Blair, they would like to see in their new pastor.

In all about 80 pastors were considered through a matching process administered by the Presbyterian Church USA, and winnowed down to a handful for the local church to consider.

“We have a very healthy Sunday school at Old Whalers, and one thing we wanted is someone who is comfortable with children,” said Blair. “And someone skilled at pastoral care, visiting people when they are sick.”

 “And also, very important, is someone who can speak well on Sunday, someone who will give you a sermon that will stick with you,” said Blair.

“You really think that all pastors know all this, but not all do,” said Blair.

Noting the success of former Old Whalers minister, the late Christine Grimbol, Blair said one mission the new pastor will be charged with is developing a youth group.

“That is very important to us, to keep the young people involved. He was successful at that at his current church,” said Blair.

The congregation also wanted someone able to address the business side of the church.

Old Whalers is facing some financial challenges, admitted Blair, but they see Rev. Phillips’ arrival as an opportunity to get the church back on stronger footing. The church did not have a stewardship — or fundraising — drive this past year, but Blair said current temporary minister Jeannine Frenzel, was guiding them to start it up for this year.

“Many in the congregation are not aware what the situation is,” noted Blair, “but they will in the next few weeks.” Letters will be sent out explaining the church’s challenges and announce the annual congregational meeting on February 28.

She added that people are reluctant to contribute, when the future appeared uncertain.

“It is helpful for people to know who is coming and when he is coming, and know that the spiritual leadership will be there,” said Blair. “Just knowing that someone’s coming will help us in the next few months.”

Blair also recognizes the role the church plays in the community, and hopes the community at large will want to help support them. In addition to its own congregation, the Old Whalers hosts the Conservative Synagogue of the Hamptons and a small Hispanic church. There is the Community Food Pantry in the basement, its lower level is used regularly for community meetings, and its sanctuary for public events such as concerts.

“But we realize, before we reach out to the community, the financial responsibility falls to the congregation,” said Blair.

Reverend Phillips will be coming from a church not too dissimilar to the Old Whalers. The church in Mineral Ridge has about 180 members, while the Sag Harbor church has about 120 active members. And, noted Blair, he comes from a congregation with a diversity of viewpoints, “as we have at Old Whalers.”

“Every once in a while, his old church found itself facing financial challenges,” said Blair, “but he was always able to face those challenges. He comes with his own sense of stewardship.”

Rev. Phillips, who is 43, is a native of West Mifflin, Pa., a suburb of Pittsburgh. He holds a degree in social work from George Mason University and Master of Divinity degree from Pittsburgh Theological Seminary.