Tag Archive | "Sag Harbor United Methodist Church"

New Minister Takes Helm of Methodist Church

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The Reverend Rose Livingston at the Sag Harbor United Methodist Church. Photo by Stephen J. Kotz.

The Reverend Rose Livingston at the Sag Harbor United Methodist Church. Photo by Stephen J. Kotz.

By Stephen J. Kotz

To an outsider, it might seem to be a circuitous route that brought the Reverend Rose Livingston to the Sag Harbor United Methodist Church, where this month she took over for Pastor Tom McLeod who moved to the North Fork at the end of June.

But Pastor Livingston, 49, who comes to Sag Harbor from a post at St. Mark’s United Methodist Church on Staten Island, sees Providence directing a life journey that brought her to Brooklyn from her native Jamaica when she was a child. She pursued a career in children’s mental health services in the city before eventually settling on becoming a minister.

“It took me a few years to know what I wanted to do,” she said on Monday in an interview in her new office, “but theology was always important to me.”

Pastor Livingston will serve a part-time ministry in Sag Harbor, where the congregation has been on the rebound since selling its old church building on Madison Street and building a new edifice on Carroll Street. For now, she will split her time between Sag Harbor and New York, where she still has a home, before she moves into the parsonage at the Bridgehampton Methodist Church, which has merged with the Southampton congregation.

Her goals for her new ministry are to “work with the community, find needs and see how we share,” she said. “Perhaps there is a homeless population, latch-key kids, the addicted that we can serve.”

A particular interest, she added, will be to “attract young people to the congregation” and continue its mission programs on both a local and broad based level.

Pastor Livingston was just 14 when her mother, “seeking the American dream,” moved with her from Kingston, Jamaica, to Brooklyn. An excellent student, Pastor Livingston was admitted to Hobart and William Smith College in Geneva, New York, when she was  16. “It was beautiful, absolutely beautiful,” she said of the campus, where she studied psychology.

More importantly, she said, it was the right time and place for her.  “At that time, women’s studies was becoming important. There was that conversation about women’s place and contribution to society. It was a place for dialog”

Pastor Livingston later received a master of divinity degree from Howard University and a master’s degree in psychology from Bowie State University in Maryland. Most recently she completed her classroom work on a doctorate in education at Nova Southeastern University in Ft. Lauderdale, although she has yet to complete her dissertation.

For much of her career, Reverend Livingston was a case worker and supervisor for New York’s Administration of Children’s Services. “It is a tough world,” she said of the career, “but it is a great need and one I love.”

Although she was brought up in the Anglican tradition in Jamaica, Reverend Livingston’s mother joined a Baptist church after moving to New York.  Pastor Livingston herself was a member of a Pentecostal church for many years in Brooklyn before becoming a Methodist. “I’m all over the place,” she joked.

“The United Methodist Church is a Godsend for women,” she said. “It’s truly an equal opportunity employer” for ministers.

After serving as a minister in various capacities, Reverend Livingston was handed her first post at St. Mark’s Church on the southern shore of Staten Island, where the congregation had an aging population. Besides ministering to the elderly, Pastor Livingston also established a girl’s club at the local elementary school.

Her initial take on her new congregation? “They are beautiful people, they are very supportive,” she said. “They love the Lord. They tell me they enjoy the services.”

In her preaching, she said, she hoped that through the Gospel she can assist her congregants “on their close, personal walk with God.”

“God is not an imaginary friend,” she said. “God is real.”

Sag Harbor Pastor Hears His Calling

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Pastor Tom McLeod.

Pastor Tom McLeod. Photo by Stephen J. Kotz.

By Stephen J. Kotz

When Pastor Tom McLeod took the reins of the Sag Harbor United Methodist Church in 2002, the congregation had about 20 members and maybe a dozen in the pews of its expansive but dilapidated church on Madison Street most Sunday mornings.

When Mr. McLeod ends his tenure after presiding over services on June 22 before moving to a new post in Southold, he will leave behind a healthy congregation of about 90 members, a good many of whom attend services on a typical week in a brand new church on Carroll Street just outside the village.

Along the way Mr. McLeod, in his first stint as a pastor, has become the longest serving leader in the church’s 179-year history.

“If we have done anything here—and I say ‘we’ because I am surrounded by a great group of people—we have developed a sense of community,” he said on Tuesday afternoon. “People are searching for community and church is a place where community can be found. We are very good at that here.”

When Mr. McLeod arrived in Sag Harbor, the church’s outlook was bleak.

So, in what Mr. McLeod concedes was “a very radical thing to do,” the congregation put its landmark church in downtown Sag Harbor on the market, eventually selling it in 2006 to former Southampton Town Councilman Dennis Suskind for $2.9 million. The building has since changed hands twice, and is currently being renovated into a single-family residence.

“The building needed over a million dollars worth of work, and we had a very limited congregation that could not afford it,” he said. “Our backs were really up against the wall and I had to decide whether I was going to spend 20 years of ministry fundraising or concentrate on bringing positive change.”

“When we sold the church on Madison Street, some people were upset,” he recalled. “They thought we were abandoning our building for money.”

But in a very real sense, the congregation didn’t have much of a choice. “If they had not accepted me they would have closed,” and the Methodist Conference, the church’s governing body, would have sold the church and used the funds elsewhere on Long Island,” he said, adding with a smile, “but they weren’t going to give me a church I could kill.”

It wasn’t long after the building was sold that the economy tanked. “I believe that if a door opens you have to walk through it because if it closes, it might stay closed for a long time,” Mr. McLeod said.

He used a story from the Book of Exodus in the Old Testament in which God tells Moses to rally the Israelites, who are too busy praying at the shore of the Red Sea to realize that that God has rolled back the waters, giving them safe passage. “There comes a time when you have to cut and run,” he said.

The congregation moved to temporary quarters in the former St. David A.M.E. Zion Church on Eastville Avenue across the village before buying a 3-acre wooded site on Carroll Street. Architects Dave and Dawn Harvey designed the new church, with its light and airy sanctuary, plenty of parking and not a single stair to impede older members from attending.

Mr. McLeod, who had a career in the building trades before entering the ministry, found his skills as a general contractor and carpenter came in handy during the building process. Besides building a thoroughly modern church, the congregation was left with about $300,000 to use as an endowment, a significant portion of which goes toward outreach programs.

Without the needing to focus solely on keeping its building intact, the congregation was able to focus on its mission, Mr. McLeod said, including making it more inviting for young people.

“The church today is more needed than at any time,” he said. “Young people don’t want to come to church just for Sunday worship. There has to be a ‘What now?’ element. They want to know what we are doing Monday through Saturday.”

Besides mission trips to places like Nicaragua and Haiti, the congregation has worked locally, helping raise funds charities like the Sag Harbor Food Pantry. “Last year almost 20 percent of our budget went out the door to missions in our midst,” he said.

Mr. McLeod, who grew up in Bellport in a Methodist family, said he was typical of many young people. “At the age of 16, I walked away from my faith and drifted for 22 years,” he said. He eventually rediscovered his faith and followed his heart into the ministry.

After several years in campus ministry at Suffolk Community College, he received the call to Sag Harbor, and he and his wife, Bobbie, moved to Shelter Island. A year ago, when Pastor Yuri Ando left the East Hampton Methodist Church, Mr. McLeod added that church to his duties.

The Southold United Methodist Church invited him to become its minister because “they want to do something like we did here. They have begun the appraisal process” and are looking for a new home.

Although Mr. McLeod said he would miss the eclectic group that makes up his current congregation, at age 61, he said he wants to live closer to his son, Jim, a Riverhead teacher who lives in Jamesport, and his two grandchildren. Mr. McLeod also has a daughter, Jackie, who works for the International Rescue Commission with Syrian refugees in northern Iraq.

“Some were mad, some were sad, and some were glad,” he said with an easy laugh of the reaction of his congregation when he announced his impending departure. “But I’m going to use my God-given talent to try to build another church on the North Fork.”

Bell Tower Restoration Planned in Eastville by Local Scout

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By Kathryn G. Menu

Pierson High School senior Dana Harvey plans to raise over $30,000 for the restoration of the bell tower at the St. David African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Zion Church in the historic Eastville neighborhood of Sag Harbor. For both Harvey, and Sag Harbor United Methodist Church Pastor Tom MacLeod, the hope is this community-based project will shine a light on the historic church, built in 1839 and believed to have been a stop on the Underground Railroad and a center of the abolitionist movement.

Harvey is a member of Boy Scout Troop 455 of Sag Harbor and hopes to attain the highest level of the Boy Scouts by earning an Eagle Scout badge. On Thursday, November 8, 17-year-old Harvey, whose parents are the owners of D & D Harvey Architects, earned approval from the Sag Harbor Village Historic Preservation and Architectural Review Board (ARB) for a building permit, which will allow him to restore the cupola bell tower as his Eagle Scout project.

The project will also entail replacement of the church’s roof, which according to Harvey will be redone with a new foundation and a layer of cedar shingles.

“It’s an Eagle Scout project and we will try to make the community aware of this church because it is kind of dilapidated, but a huge part of the African American history of this village,” said Harvey’s father, David, during last Thursday’s ARB meeting.

The project was unanimously approved.

On Monday, the younger Harvey — who at this point plans to pursue a degree in engineering after high school — said he was introduced to this project by Pastor MacLeod, whose church found a temporary home at St. David’s AME Zion Church before it opened the doors of its own new church on Carroll Street in October of 2010.

D & D Harvey Architects designed the Sag Harbor United Methodist Church’s new building — which was how Pastor MacLeod became familiar with the Harvey family and one of the reasons he believed this project would be a perfect fit for Dana.

“I didn’t really know much about the church, but once I started working on this, I feel like I have learned a lot,” said Harvey.

Harvey, Pastor MacLeod and Harvey’s parents went to St. David’s earlier this year to scope out the dimensions of the cupola and also find out if the original church bell, long obscured and believed to have been sold, was still within the boarded up cupola. Unable to access the space from the inside, Harvey said they were able to open the cupola through a louver from the roof and discovered the original bell was in fact still there.

Now that the scout has village approval to move forward with the project, a remaining critical piece is the funding side of the equation. While the cupola bell tower itself will not be cost prohibitive, coupled with the replacement of the roof — critical for the long term stability of the bell tower and church — Harvey estimates he will need to raise about $30,600.

“We have sent letters to a bunch of churches that might be able to help with the donations and now we need to see how much funding we can raise through the community,” he said.

For Pastor MacLeod, whose congregation occupied St. David’s AME Zion Church after selling its historic Madison Street home in favor of building a new church on Carroll Street, any work that can shine a light on the church’s past and the Eastville community is important work.

“That bell tower has literally not rung in 25 years,” said Pastor MacLeod on Tuesday. “I am really hoping this can highlight some of the history of the church. This would also be a great way to unite the community around fundraising for this bell tower.”

Currently the home of Pastor Michael Jackson’s Triune Baptist Church, the building is owned by the Oyster Bay-based AME Zion Church, which approved this project in September. Originally constructed in 1839 by African Americans and Native Americans on Eastville Avenue off Route 114, it is believed to have been a stop on the Underground Railroad. According to the Eastville Community Historical Society, the founding Pastor, Reverend P. Thompson was a noted Abolitionist and colleague of Frederick Douglas.

While the Eastville Community Historical Society, the Sag Harbor United Methodist Church and the Triune Baptist Church have all funded repairs on the site, Pastor MacLeod noted that because the building was empty for several years it did deteriorate rather rapidly, making a project like this critical to preserving Sag Harbor history.

“We have opened up the Sag Harbor United Methodist Church Mission and Outreach account of our church for people to donate to this project as a tax deductible contribution,” said Pastor MacLeod. “One hundred percent of the proceeds will go towards this restoration.”

Community members interested in donating to the project can send funding to The Sag Harbor United Methodist Church Mission and Outreach Account, P.O. Box 1146, Sag Harbor, NY 11963 with the subject line specifying the monies should go directly towards the St. David’s AME Zion Church bell tower cupola project.

Sen Restaurant Eyes Expansion

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Plans to expand the kitchen and lounge area at Sen restaurant on Main Street in Sag Harbor were put on hold during Tuesday night’s Sag Harbor Planning Board meeting. This came as project manager Dean Golden said restaurant co-owner Jeff Resnick also plans to propose an addition to the apartments located on the second floor.

According to the application filed with the Sag Harbor Village Building Department, for the kitchen expansion, Sen restaurant owners hope to construct a one-story, 550-square-foot addition on the rear of the existing building. The construction is proposed over an area that currently holds a storage shed, propane tank, cellar entry and stairway leading to the second floor.

The expansion aims to enlarge a kitchen area that Golden said was so small it was “torturous” to operate in and allow for the reconfiguration of the bar area and bathrooms in Sen.

Golden said instead of moving forward with that application, he would like to amend it to include the addition on the second-story apartments, which will not expand the number of units, but just make them larger.

Sag Harbor Village environmental planning consultant Rich Warren suggested that Golden furnish the board with a complete analysis of how much parking Sen has grandfathered with the village and if the expansion would have any impact on parking. Golden said he believed the building had enough pre-existing parking to move forward with the plans, but would provide the planning board with that documentation.

The amended application could be seen as early as the planning board’s February 28 meeting.

In other news, this summer Sag Harbor Village will have a new frozen yogurt shop at 2 Main Street, in the same building that hosts La Superica, most commonly referred to by locals as Fort Apache.

On Tuesday night, the planning board also waived site plan approval of Danny Cheng’s plans to open a retail store for the sale of frozen yogurt and fresh toppings in a space most recently occupied by a clothing store. The board was able to waive site plan approval as Cheng already received approval from the Suffolk County Health Department, and the change in use does not increase the amount of parking or septic needs and will not expand the building. Outdoor furniture retailer Dodds & Eder was also granted a waiver from site plan review for the construction of an exterior deck for similar reasons.

Lastly, the public hearing on Elizabeth Dow’s proposal to move her wall covering business, design studio and retail space to the former Sag Harbor United Methodist Church building on Madison Street was closed. The proposal will also be before the Sag Harbor Historic Preservation and Architectural Review Board (ARB) tonight, Thursday, February 9 and before the Sag Harbor Village Zoning Board of Appeals on Tuesday, February 14.

Dow Closes on Former Church Property

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The last two weeks have been a whirlwind for Elizabeth Dow, but as of Monday morning at 11 a.m. at least one of the artist and businesswoman’s dreams came true. According to Dow’s attorney, Tiffany Scarlato at 11 a.m. on Monday Dow closed on the property that houses the former Sag Harbor United Methodist Church with former Southampton Town Councilman Dennis Suskind at his attorney’s Southampton office.

The moment was over a year in the making, and for many residents of Sag Harbor, the end of a saga that began when the United Methodist Church congregation first sold the building to Suskind in 2008 under the financial strain of maintaining a historic church.

“This is the first step,” said Dow on Tuesday afternoon. “The light bill is in my name so hear we go.”

The closing of the $2.1 million sale comes just over a week after entrepreneur Sloan Schaffer announced he had signed a contract with Suskind to purchase the former church property. Unlike Dow, who will move her wall-covering studio and retail shop into the existing building, Schaffer said he hoped to convert the former church into his residence.

On Monday, Schaffer declined to comment on the closing of the sale.

Also on Monday, Suskind said Schaffer was “a back-up buyer” should Dow be unable to go through with the purchase of the Madison Street property.

“It is a common practice,” he added.

Dow has held the contract on the property since last fall. She has long planned to move Elizabeth Dow Mixed Media, a textile and wall covering design firm and studio into the building, which will also hold retail space, the company’s celebrated internship program and an apartment.

Quickly, Dow found community and government support for her plans, which village board members praised for the semi-public use of the treasured historic building, as well as the educational component it offers through her internship program.

Dow, who fittingly has a background in the restoration of 18th century buildings, has also said she will celebrate the history of the church. Her proposal changes almost nothing on the exterior of the building, except that it will once again be clad in wood rather than vinyl siding and will have an additional means of egress.

Dow also hopes to celebrate the church’s history in the lobby of her building, which she has explored cladding with custom made wallpaper depicting historic pictures of the former church building, newspaper articles and historic records. Dow has also proposed to commemorate the history of the building through a sign between the parking area and the entryway that details the history of the building since it was first moved from High Street.

The property is technically in a residential district in the village, however, last December, the Sag Harbor Village Board of Trustees signed off on changing the zoning of the property to Village Business to allow Dow to operate her business in the space.

When the village board adopted the change in zoning, it did place covenant restrictions that will run with the land. The covenants protect the property from ever being developed into a convenience store, bar or tavern, laundromat, dry cleaning business, movie or live theatre, gym, yacht sales center or any kind of food service business.

That change in use won’t become official until Dow secures final approval from the village planning board, which is in the throes of reviewing her application along with the village’s historic preservation and architectural review board and the Suffolk County Department of Health Services.

She will be in front of the Sag Harbor Village Planning Board, next Tuesday, November 22, at 5:30 p.m.

“I have a sense she really has a passion for this building,” said Suskind on Monday afternoon. “I have seen her describe it as ‘her life,’ so I think it is in good hands. Obviously, what I have always wanted is for the building to be in good hands and with someone who will care for it.”

“I wish her all the best,” he added. “I will be one of the first people in line when she opens.”

“It feels good,” said Dow shortly after the closing. “And I can’t wait to get started on this project.”

Dow said she is currently focused on the permit process and finishing up designs for the interior of the church building.

“I am in a little shock right now,” she admitted. “I almost can’t believe it is real yet.”


New Contract Signed for Old Church

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web Methodist Church copy

Just last week, artist and businesswoman Elizabeth Dow was before the Sag Harbor Village Planning Board presenting her plans to re-develop the former home of the Sag Harbor United Methodist Church into her place of business.

However, this week entrepreneur Sloan Schaffer announced that he has signed a contract with property owner Dennis Suskind to purchase the historic church with plans to restore the building and make it a home for his family.

If Schaffer closes on the property, it will be the second proposal where the church is conceived to become a single-family home since Suskind purchased the building in 2008. At the time the former Southampton Town councilman and retired partner at Goldman Sachs & Co. said he hoped to make the church a home for his own family. However, after running into budgetary concerns over the re-design, Suskind re-listed the property with his real estate agent Scott Strough of Strough Real Estate.

It then sat on the market for over two years until Dow contracted to buy the former church in the fall of 2010. Dow proposed to move her company — Elizabeth Dow Mixed Media, a textile and wall covering design firm and studio — to Sag Harbor, where in addition to her studio and retail space she would also host her internship program.

She has yet to close on the property, and on Monday declined comment on the news of Schaffer’s contract with Suskind.

On Monday, Schaffer — an architect who calls himself an entrepreneur with a diverse resume in business, much focused into the art world — said he has had his eye on the former church since it was listed by Suskind in 2008.

While Schaffer had toured the building, he said his focus turned to other aspects of life until this summer when he reached out to Strough again and said he would like to revisit the project.

“I have an incredible vision for what I think this building could become as a residence,” said Schaffer, who signed the contract with Suskind two weeks ago.

Schaffer said he does not want to alter the building’s exterior aesthetic, but rather preserve it. If his project moves forward, Schaffer said he plans to remove the existing aluminum siding cladding the historic church and replace it with wood. The exterior of the building would otherwise be fully restored, with the property landscaped.

“We want to do this because we really love Sag Harbor and feel a kindred connection to the village, which is one of the reasons we want to preserve this building,” said Schaffer.

On the interior, while the church would be made into a residence, Schaffer said he wants to preserve as much of the original character and spaces within the building as possible. Currently, he envisions a three-bedroom residence, and said he has the financial means to begin the project immediately, and finish it quickly.

Schaffer has already reached out to several Sag Harbor architects, he said, and has one in mind for the project although he declined to name the architect until he closes on the property. Schaffer added that he plans to work with a team of locals in developing the property, most coming directly from Sag Harbor Village.

Educated as an architect, Schaffer said now he has his hands in multitude of businesses, including real estate, and is heavily involved in the arts, both as a collector and gallery owner. In 2008, according to the gallery’s website, he opened the 101/exhibit space in Miami.

The gallery is dedicated to showing, and preserving, the artwork of “modern masters and emerging artists” by bringing their work to collectors by displaying them in a 5,000 square-foot space in the heart of Miami’s Design District.

Currently, according to Art Fix Daily, the gallery is preparing to feature “Undertow,” new art by Los Angeles based expressionist figurative painter Jason Shawn Alexander. That show opens in December.

Despite having business dealings in real estate, Schaffer did stress that he does intend to live in the church himself, and is not looking at the property as an investment. For the last six years, he said, he has been spending time in the village and has grown to love the area.

“I want to do what I think is best for the church and the community at large,” said Schaffer, who believes the church should remain a residentially zoned. “We are prepared to come in with almost an open budget and fix that church. I think this is an incredible opportunity for my family and I, but more importantly for the history of the church and the village. That building needs to be properly maintained.”

“It will be a pristine and shining example of the history of the building,” said Schaffer of his vision. “And we will maintain it as an important landmark in the village.”