Tag Archive | "Old Whalers’ Church"

Old Whalers’ Gets Facelift

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By Claire Walla

Chipped paint. Damaged window frames. At 157 years old, it’s no surprise the Old Whalers’ Church is in desperate need of cosmetic repairs, least of which being a new coat of paint.

“The church [parishioners] knew this was something they wanted to do for a number of years,” said Pastor Mark Phillips. But the high cost of the makeover — estimated to come out at anywhere from $125,000 to $300,000 — always deterred the parish from following through with its plans to paint.

This fall, however, the church’s prayers were answered.

As Rev. Phillips put it, “Christmas came early to the congregation.”

In August, the entire exterior of the Egyptian and Greek Revival Style building received structural repairs in preparation for a brand new coat of paint, which was finally finished being applied earlier this week.

The project was a gift from long-time church members Diane Cleveland Cunningham and Bart Cleveland who came forward to have this project completed in memory of their parents, Arthur and Theresa Cleveland.

The cost of the project would have been “way beyond the church’s ability to do,”

Rev. Phillips continued. “We would have had to have had a capital campaign to pay for it.”

But luckily, he continued, the church never had to venture into the fundraising realm.

“We didn’t see one bill,” Rev. Phillips said of the paint job. The church actually paid for the structural changes — like replacing wooden window frames — in preparation for the project. All the windows on the newer addition, which dates back to 1899, were repaired; while the windows of the sanctuary, which were replaced in 2004, were largely untouched. But Rev. Phillips said the price of these repairs only cost the church somewhere between $8,000 and $10,000.

The real grunt work came with the paint. “No one can actually remember for sure when [the building] was last painted,” Rev. Phillips — who came to Old Whalers’ last year — reported with a grin.

While the three front towers were actually repainted about 10 years ago for a wedding, the rest of the building was probably tended to about 20 years ago, if not more, he estimated.

The Clevelands, who live in New Jersey and Florida but grew up in Sag Harbor and still come back here from time to time, organized the entire project. They chose the contracting company for the job (which came all the way from New Jersey), and even decided on the type of paint, a special coating called Durashield, a heavy duty polyurethane enamel. Rev. Phillips said it’s estimated to last a good 30 years.

“The church really had to do very little,” Rev. Phillips reiterated.

Rev. Phillips said the Clevelands had done some other projects for the church, but explained that painting the exterior was something the siblings really wanted to do for their congregation. There’s still a lot of painting on the building’s interior that Rev. Phillips said still needs to get done at some point, in addition to some general maintenance projects. But for now he’s extremely grateful that the building’s exterior is up to snuff.

“We like to think of it as a gift to the community, as well,” Rev. Phillips added.

In 1994 the church was named a National Historic landmark by the U.S. Department of Interior. So it’s restoration is in keeping with the building’s historic significance.

“Had the donors not stepped in,” Rev. Phillips continued, “I don’t know when the project would have been done… or even if.”

Learning to Cook Greatly: Budding Chefs Learn From the Pros

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Great Chefs

By Laura Houston

One evening each month, the lower level of the Old Whalers’ Church in Sag Harbor comes alive with tasty food, great wine, beautiful decorations and top rated chefs as part of the Great Chefs Series, an interactive food tasting and cooking class in which community members are invited to come learn a few insider secrets they can take back to their own kitchens.

The series was developed by local caterer and all around foodie, Lillian Woudsma as a fundraiser for the Community House Fund at the Old Whalers’ Church, and money raised at the dinners is used to improve and maintain the church’s facilities which are used by a wide range of community groups that collectively serve several hundred people each week. But once a month, what is served is fine food and scintillating conversation and with the holidays fast approaching, Woudsma decided that the next Great Chefs event, which takes place on Wednesday, December 15 at 6:30 p.m., should have a decadent holiday theme.

The jammed packed evening will cover everything from making table arrangements — offered by florist Maureen Kinney— to preparing desserts including a flourless chocolate cake and citrus lemon and lime bars on a cake crust by pastry chef Gerri Tomitz. The evening will also feature a demonstration on creating holiday drinks — including egg nog — and a champagne, cranberry juice and sliced strawberry punch. Then there’s the full dinner menu of homemade corn bread muffins with duck and homemade cranberry chutney, brined and hickory grilled turkey breast, boneless ham wrapped in puff pastry and wild rice pilaf with walnut and cranberries all presented by Woudsma.

Like every Great Chefs event, Woudsma notes that guests will have the opportunity to get a good tasting of all the food as well as learn how to make everything presented over the course of the evening and ask questions. For Woudsma, the Great Chef Series is all about great food, great presentation and creating an opportunity for the talented area chefs to be accessible to the community.

“It’s more than a cooking class,” she says. “It’s a special evening out, there is nothing like this done out here.”

“When you think about it, where else can you spend a lovely evening eating fantastic food, drinking as much great wine as you like and learning and interacting with first class chefs for $30 a person?” she asks.

And, unlike other cooking classes, guests won’t have to worry about eating off flimsy paper plates and cups at this event. Servers bring around trays of food served on china plates, a bartender serves wine in real glasses and there are always seasonal decorations adorning the tables.

During the off season, Woudsma notes the series attracts around 30 people on most nights and in the summer, closer to 60 and she hopes the numbers will continue to grow. And when it comes to defining the crowd, Woudsma notes that it’s a very mixed group with older folks, mothers and daughters, groups of girlfriends and couples of all ages opting to take part.
“There are even single men,” notes Woudsma.

Woudsma and Rev. Mark Phillips, pastor at the Old Whalers’ Church, both agree that the main feedback they receive from participants as they are leaving is “When will the next one will be?”

“People come as strangers and leave as friends,” Rev. Phillips reflects.

Since the program began in April, many of the area’s chefs have been featured including Jim Renner from Il Cappuccino Restaurant in Sag Harbor and Cynthia Battaglia of Cynthia Battaglia Distinctive Catering. There have been various themes for the evening as well, including a menu made from all local ingredients, Italian, French and seafood among others.

In addition to choosing the menu, preparing the foods and teaching the class, so far, all the chefs have donated the food, recipes and their time so all the proceeds can go towards the Community House Fund.

Woudsma, a close friend with many of the chefs, describes the chef community as a “supportive group that have rallied around each other for years. They know I wouldn’t ask them for a favor unless it was important.”

When Woudsma was first approached to help fundraise for the Community House Fund, since she is a caterer herself, it was natural for food to be her inspiration. “It’s my passion and I always believe that if you have a passion you do it for money or free, you just do it,” she says.

As a former director of the Sag Harbor Food Pantry, which operates out of the same space as the Great Chefs events, she believes strongly that the space plays a “vital and cherished” role in the Sag Harbor community. The Community House Fund at the Old Whalers’ Church goes toward supporting the building’s community spaces which, in addition to the food pantry, currently host Alcoholic Anonymous, Weight Watchers, the Conservative Synagogue of the Hamptons, the Sag Harbor Youth Group and the Sag Harbor LVIS. Though community house functions operate separately from the church itself, Rev. Phillips notes the Old Whalers’ Church acts as steward of the property.

“We work as hard as we can to keep the money coming in to make repairs and maintain the space, but it’s a community space, not a church space,” he says.

The Great Chefs “A Holiday Tabletop Spectacular” begins at 6:30 p.m. on Wednesday, December 15 in the lower level of the Old Whalers’ Church, 44 Union Street, Sag Harbor. Admission is $30. Call Lillian Woudsma at 553-6515 to reserve.

Animator Helps Church Celebrate the Arts

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By Vee Benard

The Old Whalers’ Church on Union Street in Sag Harbor is known both for its striking facade and for its community programming. As part of its effort to turn a new corner after recent financial hardship while also capturing the hearts and minds of Sag Harborites, the Old Whalers’ Church begins its new summer series, a “Celebration of the Arts.” 

In recent years, the church has offered various arts events, taking advantage of its unique facilities, ideal location, and superior acoustics. The “Celebration of the Arts” series continues in this tradition, offering programming designed to raise money for the Community House of the Old Whalers’ Church, a newly created fund that seeks to keep the church open and operational for the numerous community organizations that depend on it.

The church currently houses many community groups, including the Sag Harbor Food Pantry, an Alcoholics Anonymous group, the Sag Harbor Youth Center, the Conservative Synagogue of the Hamptons, a Girl Scout troop, an English as a Second Language program, the Spanish Language congregation “Comunidad Cristiana Internacional,” to name just a few. While some of these programs contribute financially to the church, not all of them have the means to do so.

“These groups serve several hundred people per week,” said Susan Blair, an active member of the church community, who explained that it is difficult for the congregation alone to fiscally support the church’s operating costs.

“Though the congregation seems to be growing, especially with the introduction of our new pastor, Rev. Mark Phillips, it is still small,” she explained, “the Community House Fund is a separate entity from the church itself, but all money raised in the Celebration of the Arts series is going directly towards the cost of supporting the space.”

In partnership with “Celebration of the Arts,” which began earlier this month with a performance by jazz pianist and vocalist Judy Carmichael, John Canemaker, acclaimed animator, historian, lecturer, author, filmmaker and executive director of New York University’s Animation Department will be presenting six of his animated films at the church this Saturday.

Canemaker, a graduate of Marymount Manhattan College and New York University, where he received his Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees, respectively, was one of the main figures in the development of New York University’s Animation program, where he began his teaching career in 1981, and was eventually named head of the department in 1988. An Academy Award winning director, Canemaker has written over 100 articles on animation over the course of his career and is one of the most respected animation historians in the field.

“[This Saturday’s event] is an exploration,” said Jim Stewart, spokesperson for the event, “an exploration of animation as an art form and its impact on the future of filmmaking.”

Canemaker, a Bridgehampton homeowner, was approached earlier this year to participate in the series and, according to Stewart, was “very enthusiastic about being able to be a part of this.” The selection of films, which range from six-and-a-half to 28 minutes in length and which will include Canemaker’s autobiographical, Academy Award winning “The Moon and the Son: An Imagined Conversation,” will showcase Canemaker’s distinctive style, one that pays tribute to the animation greats of the past while still keeping in-step with the new innovations of the animation world.

“One of the main tenets of John’s work,” explains Stewart, “is that it is all hand-drawn. John feels that this is the best animation, in the sense that it is a whole aspect of an art form … there is an awareness and acknowledgement as you look at hand-drawn animated film; it is just more alive, it’s really beautiful. It is a work of art.”

Canemaker will provide commentary as he goes through the screenings of each film, and at the end of all six films there will be a question-and-answer session with members of the audience.

Stewart explained that one of the largest hurdles within the animation world is overcoming the common misconception that animation is intended for children.

“This is not the case,” he clarified. “Especially as of late we see worlds colliding within the worlds of animation and live action—we are starting to see really creative things happen. Animation is the art form of the 21st century.”

John Canemaker will appear this Saturday, July 3, at 7 p.m. at the Old Whalers’ Church, 44 Union Street, Sag Harbor. Tickets are $35. They can be purchased online at www.oldwhalerschurch.org or at the door. For more information call 725-0894.


Music May Hath Charms to Save Historic Church

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By Andrew Rudansky


After hard financial times The Old Whaler’s Church is now looking to turn the corner, and with a new pastor at the helm, it looks like they may be doing just that. This Saturday, June 5, the church kicks off a new concert series to help raise money for The Community House of the Old Whalers’ Church, a newly created fund. The evening begins with a 5:30 p.m. cocktail party at the Sag Harbor home of Lindsay and John Landes followed by a 7 p.m. performance by jazz pianist and vocalist Judy Carmichael at the church. This is the first of many concerts planned at the church throughout the summer featuring a diverse mix of genres and performers that the church congregation hopes will appeal to a wide audience. All of the money raised by the Community House Fund will go toward keeping the Old Whalers’ Church open and operational for the various community groups it houses.

Reverend Mark F. Phillips, who was recently brought on as the permanent pastor of the Presbyterian congregation, said the money is vital for the continuing operation of the church as a community center. He said that when he first joined the congregation in April, “The church was in danger of closing in a manner of months.” However, according to Rev. Phillips, thanks to the community and an increase in the church’s congregation, as well as the success of church sponsored programs like the Great Chefs Cooking Series, the Old Whalers’ Church is seeing its way out of the global recession.

 But the church is not out of the water yet. Rev. Phillips explained that without this additional source of revenue from The Community House Fund the church, built by architect Minard Lafever in 1844 and now a National Historic Landmark, could easily be closed in less than five years. Rev. Phillips said that the work at the church continues to be “a challenge,” but one made easier by the help of the officers and congregation at the church.

The new fund is called The Community House Fund, because as Rev. Phillips put it, the church is a “home for the community.” Currently the church houses an Alcoholics Anonymous program, a Girl Scout troop, an English as a Second Language program, the Sag Harbor Food Pantry, Southampton Town counseling programs, a Spanish language congregation — Comunidad Cristiana Internacional — the Conservative Synagogue of the Hamptons, and several other programs. While some of these groups donate money to the church in order to help with operating costs, this money does little to help with the church’s mounting financial concerns. 

 “There is always somebody [in the church],” said Rev. Phillips, who added this is something neither he nor the church wants to change. Despite the church’s financial difficulties it was imperative for them to not cut a single program, and instead keep their doors open to everyone in the community. Rev. Phillips said he makes it a point to welcome any community group who wishes to use the building as a meeting place.

“All money goes to the community, to keep the building open. None of the money raised for The Community House Fund will go to the Presbyterian congregation at the Old Whalers’ Church,” said Rev. Phillips who added that funds raised are slated to go to practical renovations like fixing the building’s plumbing or paying bills to keep the structure open.

“It’s not going to pay my salary,” Rev. Phillips joked.

Carmichael has performed at the Old Whalers Church on two previous occasions, the first time back in 1993 when the church presented its first music concert. 
“I spend over 200 days a year on the road, so any chance to perform in my home town is a gift. I'm looking forward to this tremendously,” she said. 
Carmichael calls herself an architecture buff, someone who appreciates the history of her home town and the Old Whalers Church. 
“It's essential for those of us who live here to contribute to [the church’s] maintenance, which the funds raised with this concert will do,” said Carmichael of the Community House Fund. On stage Carmichael will be joined by her longtime guitarist Chris Flory and a special surprise guest. 

This concert is certainly not the first to be hosted by the Old Whalers’ Church and over the years the building has garnered a reputation as one of the best venues around, acoustically speaking. Every year The Choral Society of the Hamptons performs in the sanctuary at the Old Whalers’ Church, their next performance there will be a summer concert on Sunday, July 18. In addition, Sag Harbor’s legendary jazz saxophonist Hal McKusick has offered a number of concerts at the church with his bands over the years and The Perlman Music Program, a group started by Itzhak and Toby Perlman that provides musical training to young musicians, will hold a concert at the church on Friday, August 13.

Even though he’s been in Sag Harbor little more than a month, Rev. Phillips is optimistic about the future of the church.

“In my short time here I see that there is a sense of excitement, enthusiasm, and expectation” said Rev. Phillips. “There is a renewal of life in this building.”

In the months since he arrived, Rev. Phillips said that attendance has doubled, “Everyone here feels a new chapter has started in the life of this church.”

Tickets to Judy Carmichael’s concert at 7 p.m. on Saturday, June 5 at $35. A $50 ticket includes priority seating at the concert and admission to the 5:30 p.m. cocktail party at the Bluff Point Road home of Lindsay and John Landes. For details, call Lillian Woudsma a 329-2151.



Centers Merge to Serve Youth

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In November 2008, Julie Froelich believed the Sag Harbor Youth Center would have to close its doors. The Suffolk County Youth Bureau and other local municipalities planned to cut the center’s funding for 2009 by 25 to 50 percent, said Froelich, the director of the center. Froelich was sure the decreased funding was an insurmountable obstacle.

 One day, she reflected on the history of the center and realized she wasn’t in a position to close it.

 “I thought to myself, ‘How can I close this center? This isn’t mine to close,’” said Froelich. “The center existed before me. It has to exist after me.”

 The Sag Harbor Youth Center officially opened in the 1970s, but Froelich said it has operated on an informal basis since the 1950s. The center has moved around the village throughout the years, and was previously located in the storefront adjacent to the movie theater, the current Provisions building and in the Schiavoni building which was recently demolished as part of the gas ball remediation project on West Water Street.

 In recent years, the center has operated from a small storefront on Division Street just south of the intersection with Bay Street. But Froelich explains that with almost half of the center’s budget being used to pay the rent, she knew the center would need to relocate again in order to continue operation.

 So Froelich soon devised a plan to save the center.

 She recalled an article she read on the recently established Chris Grimbol Center for East End Adolescents at the Old Whalers’ Church, started by Pastor Bill Grimbol of Shelter Island.

 “We had the kids, but we needed a center — and he already had a center but needed kids to come to it,” said Froelich. She approached Grimbol about merging the two centers and he was very receptive to the idea. Rev. Grimbol and Froelich bonded over a shared vision of how their organizations can help struggling teens.

 “I found we had the same basic philosophy of how kids deal with stress and jump through life’s hurdles,” said Froelich. “There is tremendous competition out there and [teenagers] often struggle to find their niche. Kids will make mistakes … but we hope they can talk to us before they make big decisions.”

 “I want to be a person they can come to and feel comfortable talking with,” she said.

 Rev. Grimbol and Froelich soon secured a part-time location at the Old Whalers’ Church and worked out a schedule. The newly named Chris Grimbol/Sag Harbor Youth center will operate from Friday through Sunday at the church, and Froelich hopes the program will officially commence on April 1. As Froelich and Grimbol ironed out the logistics of the program, they designed a few educational classes for the 10 to 18-years-old who currently frequent the Sag Harbor Youth Center. The classes to be offered include Samaritan Project, which will encourage teens to volunteer at local homeless shelters and soup kitchens, and the Green Project, where teens devise ways to make the village more eco-friendly. Froelich is particularly proud of Project Excel, a program assisting older teens in the pre-college process.

 “We want to walk them through it from start to finish,” said Froelich of the class.

 These classes will be offered exclusively on Saturdays. The center will continue to offer a drop-in recreation and activity room, from Friday through Monday, from the church’s youth room on the second floor. All of the equipment, including the televisions, video games, pool table and air hockey table, will be moved to this new location.

 On Sundays, Rev. Grimbol will offer his “Dinner Dialogue” series, where high school students can come together to share a meal and listen to a presentation on various issues associated with growing up.

 The merged program is likely to draw a lot of attention from local youths. The Sag Harbor Youth Center currently serves almost 50 to 100 youths a month, and local teenagers have already told Froelich they are more likely to visit the new location because it is conveniently located near the school.

A Place for Kids to Share Troubles, and Parents Too

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By Marissa Maier

Since moving to the East End 25 years ago, Pastor Bill Grimbol has created a reputation for himself. Although Grimbol’s sermons are soul searching and he is involved in various community projects, he is most famous for his work with local adolescents. Generations of East End teenagers and adults refer to Grimbol simply as “Pastor Bill.” People on the streets of Shelter Island, where he is currently pastor of the First Presbyterian Church, and Sag Harbor, where he and his late wife, the Rev. Christine Rannie Grimbol lived for many years when she led the congregation of the Old Whalers’ Church, may recognize Grimbol as the man who supported them through a teenage depression or helped a son or daughter overcome substance addiction.

Throughout his career, Grimbol has worn many hats, including that of youth counselor, well-seasoned preacher, and writer of fiction and spiritual studies. On February 2, however, Grimbol will don the role of parent guidance counselor in a class titled “Being The Adult Your Teen Needs You To Be.” The class is part of a two-part session “Good Enough Parent,” the first program series to be held at the Chris Grimbol Center for East End Adolescents, in the Old Whalers’ Church.

“Whenever you bring up the issue of adolescence, parents always ask ‘what can we do about this?’ But I have come to realize that it is not so much what parents can do about a problem, but what they can be about a problem,” said Grimbol.
By nurturing their own emotional and mental health, Grimbol believes parents will be better equipped to parent their children. Grimbol hopes to teach parents certain strategies to facilitate a healthier and stronger relationship between them and their child.
The class will consist of a 30 minute presentation and discussion session. The presentation, which will be delivered by Grimbol, will focus on being honest and open with your child, and also rekindling your enjoyment of being a parent.

“We still have this kind of approach to parenting as if you have to be perfect, and that effort takes all the fun and all the love out of it,” said Grimbol.

The program and the Chris Grimbol Center for East End Adolescents is a tribute to Grimbol’s late wife, who also ministered to local youth and was a champion of their interests.

“I waited for eight years before I did something I thought Chris would be proud of,” said Grimbol, whose wife passed away in 2000.

Grimbol recalls his wife as a legendary confidant for local adolescents. When they first moved to Sag Harbor, he fondly remembers Chris walking up to teenagers at their local hangouts in front of the fire department or the Harbor Deli where the Golden Pear stands now.

“She would go up to the kids and say ‘I am Chris Grimbol and you are coming to my youth group,’” said Grimbol who added that his wife fostered strong bonds with her youth group members and often guided them through troubled times.

One year, a group member became severely depressed over the suicide of a friend, who had been the Pierson valedictorian. Chris wasted no time in showing up at his house where she found the young man in bed, where he had been for days. Chris promptly hopped onto the bed and told him he had to talk with her. After some bickering, Chris soon had the young man laughing over her persistency in helping him. When dealing with teenagers, notes Grimbol, Chris was often fearless and honest.

“She would talk to them about what everyone else avoided talking about,” remarked Grimbol. “Being married to Christine taught me everything that I am talking about with these kids.”

From Chris, Grimbol also developed a somewhat unorthodox stance on religion and approach towards spiritual counseling. An avid writer, Grimbol is currently working on a book titled “I Am Not Very Religious, But I Am Spiritual: Finding the faith you can live with.” The title was lifted from the answer Grimbol constantly heard parishioners, people at funerals, and weddings utter when he asked them if they were religious.

The upcoming series at the Old Whalers’ Church, Grimbol feels, is a fitting tribute to Chris Grimbol, who devoted much of her life to helping kids.

“Being the Adult Your Teen Needs You to Be” will be held at the Old Whalers Church, 44 Union Street, Sag Harbor on February 2 at 7 p.m. No reservations are required.

A Place to Call Home

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Let’s face it. It isn’t always easy for people to find their footing as newcomers to Sag Harbor. With an ever changing set of faces on Main Street — especially in the summer — making meaningful connections can take a good deal of time and effort.

But for the Reverend Christine Gimbol, or “Pastor Chris” as she was known to her parishioners at the First Presbyterian (Old Whalers’) Church in Sag Harbor, being a newcomer was never an issue — and making those connections never a chore. That’s because from the moment she arrived here from Wisconsin to become the pastor at the church in 1985, she knew she had come home.

“Every morning of our married life in Sag Harbor, when Chris would get up, we’d have coffee and she would say, ‘This is my first real home and this is my first hometown,’” recalls her husband, Reverend William Grimbol. “She had had issues with her family and background issues, but this was home. I think she considered all of Sag Harbor her home. And without claiming it or naming it, she felt as if part of her job was to be the chaplain of Sag Harbor.”

“What I find ironic is I’m the Midwesterner,” says Grimbol. “But it was Chris who brought the Midwest to Sag Harbor. Her warm friendly manner got its guard down.”

In addition to the tough talking fishermen she met for coffee early each morning at the Harbor Deli and the locals she introduced herself to while writing sermons at the Paradise Diner, Pastor Chris also made it her mission to get to know the youth here. And it was through the youth — and not just those who would typically be found at Sunday School — that she found her true calling in Sag Harbor.

Grimbol, pastor of the Shelter Island Presbyterian Church, recalls just how his wife managed to reach out to some of the most incorrigible young candidates in the village and get them to come to the church.

“In building the youth group, there are some stories that sound like mythology,” says Grimbol. “But it’s the truth.”

“We took a walk after lunch one day at Paradise. It was after school and one of the first weeks we were here,” he recalls. “She walked up to a group and said to the kids, ‘The youth group meets on Sunday at 6:30 p.m. Where do you live? I’ll pick you up.’”

“It was like the Charles Manson boys chorus,” grins Grimbol. “She just went and got everybody.”

But in April of 2000, Pastor Chris died of complications as the result of surgery. She was 54 years old. Now, eight years after her death, her husband is once again “coming to get the youth” of Sag Harbor. This time, in the form of The Christine Beth Rannie Grimbol Center for East End Adolescents, which will operate from the Old Whalers’ Church where his wife was pastor for the last 15 years of her life.

Pastor Chris knew what it was like to have a tough childhood. Early life for her was a series of hardships. Her mother died within hours of her birth — her father and three year old brother drowned when she was just 10 months old. She was sent to live with a relative in a home where she suffered years of abuse. Eventually she found comfort and salvation in the church and in singing. After earning a degree in music from Westminster Choir College, she went on to earn her divinity degree at Princeton Theological Seminary.

“I think the most incredible thing when I look at Chris’s life is the fact that she came out of a very ungracious background which repeatedly blared a message of lack of worth,” says Grimbol. “Yet somehow she managed to dig down inside herself to give back to people the opposite. It was an absolute sense of unconditional love. Her message was her person.”

And that message extended to the youth she embraced in Sag Harbor.

“She never noticed the things about them that others didn’t like,” he says. “Telling her story was how she got the values in there. She was unafraid to take them on that journey. She’d say this is what I’ve experienced. I’ve come out whole and holy. She recognized the fact that we live in a culture that endlessly tells you you’re not enough. It’s as if our whole economic culture is based on that. But Chris’s message was your enough. You’re more than enough already.”

And that’s exactly the sort of advice Grimbol and others involved in the effort will be offering young people when The Christine Beth Rannie Grimbol Center for East End Adolescents open next Monday, September 22.

For the past year, Grimbol has been meeting with staff and prospective board members to define the primary mission of the center, which is to offer a place that’s available and accessible for kids to come and feel good about who they are. In addition to therapists who will be available to meet one-on-one with kids, Grimbol explains that the center, which will be open each Monday from 4 to 9 p.m. will also offer parenting programs, dinner dialogues for teens and other forums that stress diversity, respect for selves and others and address issues of racial bias and sexual orientation issues.

“It’s not a youth center,” notes Grimbol. “We’re really here to talk about serious subjects. Being serious is not depressing.”

This Saturday, September 20 at 8 p.m., singer Jody Carlson will perform in concert at the Old Whalers’ Church for the benefit of The Christine Beth Rannie Grimbol Center for East End Adolescents.

“I sing standards from the American songbook with a jazz twist,” says Carlson, who has a home in Bridgehampton. “I enjoy singing songs people love to hear and songs where the lyrics speak to me — composers like Cole Porter, Rogers and Hart and Duke Ellington.”

Music played a huge role in Pastor Chris’ life — so it is fitting that it would be through music that the center would find support. Jody Carlson is not only a singer, but she was also an Old Whalers’ Church parishioner and close friend to Pastor Chris.

Carlson, who has performed at cabaret clubs throughout New York City, now sings every Tuesday evening at Pierre’s in Bridgehampton. She first came to the Old Whalers’ Church when she and her husband were weekenders looking for a church where their young children could attend Sunday school. They stopped looking when they found Pastor Chris.

“In her sermons Chris would always revealed so much and invited so much thought,” notes Carlson. “Her honesty was absolutely dazzling to hear — her courage to reveal so much in her sermons.”

“I think that kind of honesty gives people permission and courage themselves to reveal their lives and their conversations with loved ones,” she continues. “I got so much out of what she gave to us. She set the stage for lots of love. She gave so much and hopefully received so much. Not only in the church but in the ecumenical youth group. She touched the kids and gave them someone to talk to.”

Though it’s based in Sag Harbor, Grimbol envisions the new center as being one that will serve youth from all over the East End. He plans to bring young people over with him from Shelter Island for the Monday evening sessions and has a donated 15 seat van that he has nicknamed the “Chris Craft” which will make the trip.

 “I’m trying to convince the kids we’re not just offering therapy, we’re trying to offer inspiration, motivation, awareness and understanding,” says Grimbol. “It’s realizing that there is a choice of perspective and attitude. It’s not so much focused on kids problems, but giving them the tools for whatever life gives them to handle.”

“I’m genuinely excited and grateful to the Old Whalers’ church. They’ve made our job easy,” adds Grimbol. “It’s always a difficult issue for a church to say how do we celebrate our past without preventing our future. In doing this that I think we’ve said, ‘Chris is gone, but the spirit lives on.’”

“She more than anyone would want all kinds of people to come to that church to meet their needs.”

Tickets to Jody Carlson’s concert on Saturday, September 20 at 8 p.m. are $50 and available in Sag Harbor at Sag Harbor Liquors, Spinnakers and Sparkling Pools and Harbor Hot Tubs. Tickets will also be sold at the door. The Old Whalers’ Church is located at 44 Union Street in Sag Harbor. For more information, call 749-0805.

Above: The Rev. William Grimbol in front of the Old Whalers’ Church in Sag Harbor where his wife, Rev. Christine Grimbol, was pastor for the last 15 years of her life.

 

Real Life Courtroom Drama Turned Into a Farce

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By Raphael Odell Shapiro

 Starting tonight at 8 p.m. the First Presbyterian Old Whalers’ Church in Sag Harbor will be transformed into a courtroom, thanks to a creative team comprised of a dermatologist from St. Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital in Manhattan and a federal judge. Playwright Adrienne Foran and director Manuel Cofresi have collaborated to bring to the stage a fictionalized retelling of an actual court case in “The Cat, the General, the Wife, the Judge, and Calzone.”

Writing has always been a passion of Foran’s, who in addition has a certificate for screenwriting from NYU. She most recently adapted and directed an adaptation of a Chekhov story entitled “The Chorus Girl,” which was put on at the HB Studio in Manhattan. But it was at a playwriting workshop at Hunter College last year that inspiration struck.

“The idea I had when I went was useless,” laughed Foran, sitting at a table in the basement of the Old Whalers’ Church, where directly above her the set of her very first original play was being assembled on the wooden proscenium. Foran described how she had then heard the incredible true story of a five-year-long divorce case from her friend and attorney, Manuel Cofresi.

“And I thought to myself, well this has a beginning, a middle, and an end,” said Foran, “I can use this.”

According to Foran, Cofresi related how when he was still in private practice, he was hired to represent a woman (the “Wife”) in a court case against her husband (the “General”) who was suing for divorce after she supposedly hit him. The battle lasted years, and involved a cast of characters including a cat psychiatrist during a heated conflict for custody of their cat (the “Cat”) and a trio of jailed hookers, who have become a Greek chorus of sorts in Foran’s farcical retelling.

The playwright has been very involved during the rehearsals, giving creative feedback and providing a few on-the-scene rewrites. The show first had a staged reading at the Helen Mills Theater in New York City this past May, but the opening at the Old Whalers’ Church marks its premier unscripted performance.

Foran described how she finished her play, recounting how she brought the rough scripts to dinners at her sister and brother-in-law’s house and handed out copies around the table for other guests to read, so she could hear her characters come to life.

“So, people stopped coming to the dinner parties,” she joked.

Sister Diane Boyd and her husband Michael are the show’s producers, and part-time Sag Harbor residents.

Foran could not be more excited about the opening at the church. “We have a great cast,” she said, speaking of the collection of seasoned actors, including some local residents, up-and-coming young stars, and even a New York City police lieutenant, who will be playing the role of attorney Donald Calzone, Esq.

She also couldn’t be more happy with her choice of director in Cofresi, who made his directorial debut with the staged reading at the Helen Mills. “We figured he could direct a courtroom,” she said. “He’s motivated everyone, and done a great job.”

Cofresi’s own life story is one worth telling. An orphan from Spanish Harlem, he was raised at the Little Flower House of Providence and later moved to the St. Vincent Home for Boys in Brooklyn. He would eventually graduate law school, become a trial lawyer, work for the New York district attorney’s office, and in 1995 was appointed a United States administrative law judge.

And now? He’s directing, and having the time of his life. Said Cofresi, “It’s a wonderful, wonderful experience.” The rehearsal process is a particularly unique one for the judge, who in a sense is seeing his own memories replayed before him on stage. “I was the real Donald Calzone back in those days,” he said, referring to the character in Foran’s play based on him.

Cofresi apparently hasn’t missed a beat in his switch from the courtroom to the rehearsal room. “Because I am a federal judge, it’s easier to direct this kind of play,” he explained, “procedurally and substantively.” Though Cofresi admitted that the story is at it’s heart tragic, Foran has managed to turn it into a comedic drama.

“She took the story and made it into a raucous comedy,” he said. “It’s the combination of our talents that’s bringing it to the theater.”

But does Calzone (or Cofresi) win the case? To find out you’ll have to travel to the Whalers’ Church tonight, Friday or Saturday night at 8 p.m. It promises to be a nail biter.

 

Rhythms of Ireland

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Ireland and its rich culture have long been near and dear to the hearts of many Americans, particularly here in the Northeast where many people can trace their ancestry back across the Atlantic. Despite being often several generations removed, Ireland continues to exert a strong hold on many people in this country.

Local lovers of all things Irish will have an opportunity to revisit old Ireland when The Emerald Revellers bring their “Rhythms of Ireland” program to Sag Harbor’s Old Whalers’ Church at 8 p.m. on Friday, August 1.

Founded in 1996 by choreographer Clare McMorrow as an outgrowth of her Farragher School of Dance, The Emerald Revellers are a traditional Irish folk group from county Leitrim. Members range in age from six to 50+ and in their programs, they offer audiences an evening of Irish dance, music, singing and storytelling.

The first half of the “Rhythms of Ireland” performance is dedicated to traditional Irish music and dance or “sean nos.” The second half of the show features modern step dancing moves like those made popular by Michael Flatley and the dancers of Riverdance.

“It’s exactly like what Riverdance does,” explains McMorrow. “We’ve tried some new stuff recently. One routine, I showed the younger dancers and said, ‘Do you want to do it?’ and they said, ‘Wow!’”

“Traditional music and dancing have had a big revival in the last number of years, even outside of Ireland,” she adds. “Riverdance gave it a big lift — for boys too. We have seven boys dancing — Michael Flatley was a major fashionable influence.”

Since she founded The Emerald Revellers, McMorrow and her group have performed throughout Ireland and abroad. Performers not only come from Leitrim, which is in the northwest of Ireland, but also neighboring counties Sligo, Fermanagh and Cavan. In that part of the world, singing, dancing and visiting friends and relatives to share a little music is a way of life.

“We’re close knit — there’s always music and dancing,” says McMorrow. “They all come to my house and have a sing song. There’s a lot of that.”

Many members of The Emerald Revellers have danced under McMorrow’s direction for 20 years. But they are not professionals and still hold day jobs, raise children or attend school.

“My own children dance,” says McMorrow. “I also have a grandchild now that dances.”

For their upcoming U.S. tour, which includes performances at venues in New York, Massachusetts and Connecticut, the performers will be paying half of their own expenses.

“It takes great commitment,” says McMorrow. “They all have a social life, they all have boyfriends and girlfriends. Hopefully it will pay off. They’ve left wives and husbands behind.”

During a 2001 visit to Florida, The Emerald Revellers performed to sold-out audiences. For many of the 35 performers making the trip next week, this will be their first visit to the Northeast.

“They’re all very excited,” says McMorrow. “Many of them have never been to New York. I’ve been to Boston, but not New York. If we have time, we may be able to see some sights between shows.”

“In Florida, we got huge audiences and were so appreciative,” says McMorrow. “It was unbelievable. Hopefully people will come out in New York too.”

Coordinating a tour with 35 performers, eight shows  and three states is no small task, and on this side of the Atlantic, it falls to Noyac’s Bunny Jones to help facilitate the group’s visit.

Jones grew up in New York, but her mother hailed from Leitrim and McMorrow is married to Jones’ cousin. Jones, who splits her time between Noyac and Florida, coordinated the 2001 tour, and she is doing the same this time around. During their last visit, members of the group told Jones that it was their dream to perform in the Northeast where so many people of Irish heritage live.

“I decided to add Sag Harbor to the tour,” says Jones. “When people think of New York they think Manhattan. I thought it would be fantastic if they could come out here.”

Though The Emerald Revellers are accustomed to performing abroad, for members like set dancer Bridie Sweeney, coming to the United States has special meaning.

“I think U.S. audiences are different,” she says. “There’s a deeper appreciation and understanding of where we’re coming from and a connection with the group.”

 “It possibly means more to them,” adds Sweeney. “People in America are very warm and welcoming. When you’re performing, you get a lot of feedback from your audience. You dance better, sing better play better. When we were in Florida, we got such a reception it was amazing. I hope we’ll get a similar feedback there.”

“Even those with no Irish roots or background will get a lot out of the performance,” she says. “Anybody can be touched.”

“People will go away uplifted. This is real Irish dancing backed up by really good music.”

Tickets for The Emerald Revellers’ August 1 performance are $20 ($15 for children) and available in advance by calling Bunny Jones at (631) 899-3996 or at www.emeraldrevellers.com. Tickets will also be sold at the door. Showtime is 8 p.m. The Old Whalers’ Church is at 44 Union Street in Sag Harbor.