Keeping the faith; Providing counsel and comfort to congregations and the community

Giving thanks in a time of illness, pain and death on a massive scale, along with uncertainty about the health of yourself and your loved ones, is sometimes impossible. But it’s a necessary part of life, religious leaders here said, and not just during this one holiday season.

Heads of congregations told the Reporter that their outreach programs helping parishioners and others who are in need has ramped up a bit during the pandemic, but much of the slack has been picked up by other groups, most notably the Shelter Island Lions Club.

Several of the faith leaders pointed to the Lions’ purchasing and delivering about 64 Thanksgiving dinners to Islanders in need, in lieu of the traditional community dinner at the Presbyterian Church. (See story, below.)

The leaders of the several denominations said the COVID-19 pandemic has brought questions of keeping an even keel, coping and finding benefits during extremely difficult times.

Father Charles McCarron, pastor of St. Mary’s Episcopal Church, said that in some ways the pandemic has brought people closer rather than farther apart. “It’s paradoxical that Zoom has allowed people — especially grandparents and grandchildren — to see more of each other than they normally would,” Father McCarron said. “There’s more talking, more accessibility.”

The pandemic has “called us together as a congregation, and letting us look at who we are and what we mean as a community,” he added.

Another benefit has been that church services broadcast via Zoom allow many who couldn’t get to services even before the online option, such as the homebound and frail elderly, to participate.

The pandemic has focused people on what’s important, Fr. McCarron said. “It’s painful, but we have an opportunity to examine our relationships with one another, to see how necessary they are to us,” he said.

We should be thankful for changes, large and small, and not fear them, he added: “Life is about change — it’s a sign of life.”

The pastor said that the pandemic has been an “extended season of Lent, and by that I don’t mean Lent as religious Weight Watchers, going on a religious diet, but a form of self-examination, to see ourselves clearly.”

Father Peter DeSanctis, pastor of Our Lady of the Isle, said some of his parishioners have come to him expressing fear of the future, which is normal, but others have expressed “anger and frustration” at the state of their lives and the world to the point of insomnia.

“I tell them first to sometimes turn off cable news,” Father DeSanctis said. It’s important to be up to date, but “a lot of what we’re seeing are things we can’t control. Direct your concerns at what you can control,” he added, and focus on loved ones and your own well-being.

“I also tell them, ‘You’re doing better than you think.’ And that there’s way more good will, common sense and concern for the common good than we realize.”

He responds to people expressing fear, anger and frustration by suggesting they focus on those who are working every day for the common good, from healthcare workers to clerks in stores who are providing services.

“These people show up, they’re present for all of us,” he said.

Rabbi Berel Lerman, director of Center For Jewish Life – Chabad in Sag Harbor, who presides over the annual lighting of the Menorah next to the Christmas tree in front of the Shelter Island Police headquarters, said beginning each day with a commitment of hope and faith can carry people through days of uncertainty and doubt.

“Life at times can be challenging. It can be daunting for a person to wake up in the morning and face a new day of struggles,” he said.

Rabbi Lerman described a Jewish morning prayer, the Modeh Ani, which “conveys the idea that waking up in the morning is not a random act. It is an endowment by a higher power entrusting us with a soul to live up to a unique purpose and mission on this earth.”

Accompanying the prayer, is “a profound meditation, which speaks to the core of thankfulness and has great relevance to the time that we are in.”

In the midst of the world suffering from a global pandemic, Rabbi Berel Lerman said beginning each day with a commitment of hope and faith can carry people through days of uncertainty and doubt.

Certain texts of his faith have also buoyed Reverend Robert Griffin, pastor of the Shelter Island Presbyterian Church. He’s counseled parishioners who are seeking guidance and solace to turn their focus toward those writings, especially the epistles of St. Paul, including: “Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances …”

Speaking to the Reporter, Reverend Griffin said, “Thanksgiving is here and Christmas hard on its heels. I must confess this year an attitude of joyfulness and thanksgiving has so far eluded me. Paul’s exhortations become both a challenge and a reminder to me, and to us here, I think, in this place and time. We are being reminded that our futures are assured, and enabled because of this assurance to take on an attitude of joyfulness and thanksgiving in spite of all that now swirls around us.”

Lions Club live up to motto: ‘We serve’

We asked Don D’Amato, IT director of the Shelter Island Lion’s Club what the club has done since the COVID-19 pandemic struck last spring. Mr. D’Amato gave us a list:

• Received substantial donations from several quite generous Islanders, designated specifically to help those in need because of the pandemic.

• Established a COVID-19 Support Committee, which distributed flyers and posted webpages (in English and Spanish — see requesting that anyone needing assistance due to the pandemic contact the Committee. 

• Received (via mail & online from the website) and passed along many donations supporting the SI Action Alliance. Also received donations directly and via the golf tournament at the Shelter Island Country Club in support of a severely disabled Islander. 

• Paid a high, overdue electric bill for an Island business working with much reduced income as a consequence of the pandemic.

• Paid an electric bill for an Island senior who had lost his source of income.

• Purchased heating fuel for several Islanders needing assistance.

• Purchased IGA and Piccozzi fuel gift cards for several Islanders in need.

• Worked with the Senior Activity Center to loan spare school laptops (Chromebooks) to Island seniors (or their caregivers) who didn’t have computers and wanted to videoconference with friends and loved ones while isolated.  An interactive (socially distanced) instructional session to familiarize the users with the devices was held outside the Center. 

• Purchased a cellular wireless modem (i.e., a hotspot) with a mobile data plan for loan to seniors who would otherwise be without Internet access and want to communicate via Zoom or other means while isolated.  The device was used by one senior for about three months and is now available for others.

• Donated $500 to the Fire Department.

• Donated $3,500 to the town to support the construction of the blue metal standing-seam roof on the Wades Beach bathhouse.  (An additional $300 was received by the Foundation from a property owner living near Wade’s, bringing the total to $3,800.)

• Has been paying the monthly fee for the Rx disposal box at the Pharmacy.

• Is coordinating donated labor and materials and otherwise supporting much needed repairs to an Island home (whose owner could not otherwise afford them), including the roof, front door, bath and deck.

• Held a virtual Snapper Derby — with kids self-reporting their catches during the last week in August.  Generous donations from many Island businesses and individuals were received nonetheless and T-shirts will be printed and shipped to participants and sponsors.

• Provided tuition support to three Island students for college level courses.

For information on how to donate to the Shelter Island Lions Foundation, email [email protected]

Within the coming weeks, the Reporter will publish information on the many other Island nonprofits that support Islanders during the holidays and year round.