I remember that September day well — a day that will live in infamy (for me, at least). I had just pulled in to the parking lot of my dentist’s office when I received a call from the vicar of our church, Father Nils Blatz. He wanted to visit with me that afternoon. Surprised and curious, my first thought was for his well-being. He assured me he was fine, but still …
As one of the two church wardens at The Church of the Redeemer in Mattituck, I’ve had numerous meetings and conversations with Father Nils. However, there was something in his tone that made me sit up and take notice, metaphorically, that is! Sitting up in the dentist’s chair is a tad difficult, but at least my curiosity distracted me from what was happening inside my mouth.
When Father Nils arrived at my home, he didn’t mince words. He informed me that he was retiring effective Dec. 1. I was stunned into silence — and that in itself is amazing! I reacted with tears, followed by a drumbeat of panic in my throat. I thought: “We are going to be priestless!”
And so it began.
My fellow warden met with Father Nils weekly and gleaned enough information to compile an indispensable procedure manual. The best-kept secret at Redeemer was revealed: Father Nils did far more than we could have ever imagined. Over a short period of time, we had a crash course in “Church Basics 101.”
The Episcopal Diocese of Long Island sent a representative to help the parish with the transition. He worked closely with us and calmed our frayed nerves — if only for a millisecond. There was always another question.
Enter a group of retired supply priests who call themselves OPEC (Old Priests of the Episcopal Church). These wonderful priests did more than celebrate the Eucharist each Sunday; they “supplied” us with confidence and support.
My fellow warden, treasurer and yours truly were dubbed “The Holy Trinity” (not so holy, trust me!) by one of our supply priests. We met weekly and were in contact daily by phone, text or email. Ah, those emails! Sometimes there were 20 emails floating among us — and that was the tip of the iceberg. The minutiae of running a church became a living, breathing thing — and grew larger by the day.
While other churches were closing their doors, the vestry and laity of Redeemer kept the doors open. We continued to feed the hungry through our food pantry and fulfill our ministry to John’s Place, a homeless shelter program. Our Sunday school and youth programs met regularly as well as the Alcoholic Anonymous groups. We didn’t miss a beat.
Fast forward to May: There is a new priest in town!
Father Patrick McNamara, fondly known as Father Pat, has been assigned to our parish. After his first sermon, I could almost hear a collective sigh of relief from the parishioners. Folks were smiling, nodding to one another and giving the thumbs-up sign. What a relief! We were no longer priestless.
Father Pat is a people person. Warm, friendly and funny, he is not above cracking jokes at his own expense. His sermons are upbeat, inspiring and speak to the human condition. With a knack for touching the heart, Father Pat makes you feel as though he is speaking to you personally.
Everyone needs a spiritual home, don’t you think?
With Father Pat at the helm, our little church (with a big heart) will continue to be a “user-friendly” place where respect for the dignity and worth of every person who passes through our doors is guaranteed. A family-oriented, open-minded community of faith, we work toward inclusion, justice and peace. We will continue our tradition of loving one another by caring for the sick, friendless, needy, lonely and heartbroken.
We are a church family who shares and celebrates our mountaintop experiences and supports each other through the trenches of life. Our beloved Father Nils always concluded our liturgy with these words: “Now go out and be the church.”
And, folks, that’s precisely what we at Redeemer do!
Ms. Iannelli is a resident of Jamesport.