I met last week with the Reverend Stephen M. Fearing, the young pastor at the Shelter Island Presbyterian Church. Stephen, as he likes to be called, comes from Georgia, and was installed as pastor in July of 2014. He’s 29 years old and holds two masters degrees from Columbia Theological Seminary in Georgia.
Shelter Island is his first parish.
Stephen told me that he’s still learning and that this is the time of big “firsts” in his life.
“I am learning how to do the dance between pastor and prophet,” he said, adding that “some things are just tough to say.”
He and his wife, Tricia, live in the church manse, which he says is a 45-second commute to the church. Tricia is a therapist and works at The Retreat in East Hampton.
I mentioned to Stephen that the only pastor of the Presbyterian Church here that I knew was the Reverend Don Shaw in the early eighties. Don was a stickler for correct usage of English. I was working at the Reporter at the time and a story referred to him as “Rev. Shaw.” Well he stopped by the office and told all of that the correct usage for clergy titles is “the Rev. Shaw.” I have never forgotten that point of grammar. Always use the definite article.
My other contact with the church was some 35 years ago when my late wife was being treated for cancer. The treatments necessitated frequent trips into New York City. On more than one occasion we received checks from the deacons of the Presbyterian Church to help defray costs we were incurring. And we were not members of the church.
The church was founded in 1743 and has always been the church for the people of this Island. I believe that every Town Supervisor into the seventies was a Presbyterian.
Stephen noted how he ministers to all groups on the Island. The church has “roughly” 100 members who are mostly senior citizens, he explained adding that the church reaches out to the entire community. Its spaces are used for the Dinner Bell, the pre-school, Girl Scouts, Women’s Club, the food pantry, AA, and concerts sponsored by the Shelter Island Friends of Music.
Stephen said that when he’s in his office, there’s always someone else around.
“I’m never alone,” he said.
“And I’m proud to be a Presbyterian — reforming and always being reformed,” he said, adding that the church has a long history of social advocacy.
He told me about a sermon of his last June on gun control in which he said that this country has an idolatrous infatuation with guns. One of the church elders wrote a letter to the Reporter complaining about “my views,” he said, adding, “my job is to speak from where the Biblical narrative leads us.”
He also said that conflict can energize us.
“It creates dialogue and that’s good” he said.
He added that the people he worries about most are the ones who don’t care.