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A small church with a big passion to actively engage in the community

Long Island’s Yaphank Presbyterian Church joyfully accepts the Matthew 25 invitation

by Mike Ferguson | Presbyterian News Service

Despite a devastating December 2013 fire, members of the Yaphank Presbyterian Church on Long Island are actively engaged in their community and have accepted the Matthew 25 invitation. (Photo courtesy of Yaphank Presbyterian Church)

LOUISVILLE — Some Sundays, five or 10 people show up for worship at Yaphank Presbyterian Church on Long Island, N.Y. The church, established in 1851, has 41 members on its rolls. The average Sunday attendance is about 15.

Yet the session of the historic church, whose sanctuary was destroyed by a December 2013 fire, has embraced the invitation to become a Matthew 25 church. Its chosen focus is eradicating systemic poverty.

“Though the congregation is quite small,” said the Rev. Glorya Johnson, Yaphank’s 74-year-old quarter-time temporary supply pastor, “we have many people coming to us seeking food or money to purchase food. ‘I was hungry and you fed me’ is a lesson we take seriously.”

Addressing poverty is not the only way members of the Yaphank church are ministering to the community, according to the Rev. Mark Tammen, general presbyter of the Presbytery of Long Island.

“They also have a long-term ministry to veterans,” including housing a half-dozen Vietnam-era veterans in the church manse, Tammen said in an email. “That ministry also includes reaching out to that audience in a variety of ways to make their lives better.”

Even in the aftermath of the fire, “the congregation continued to host the local library as its building was upgraded,” Tammen said. The church regularly hosts Alcoholics Anonymous groups and congregations who are without a building, “even adjusting their worship schedules to accommodate the other group,” Tammen said. “They have invited the community into their space during the Strawberry Festival. They did all this while coping with the loss of their worship space.”

When Johnson presented the Matthew 25 invitation to the Yaphank session, “their first response was, ‘Why don’t we do that?’” she said. An elementary school down the street has plenty of students who sometimes go to school hungry, she said. While Long Island may be famous for its exclusive neighborhoods in the Hamptons, other Long Island families are struggling financially, Johnson said.

“If you don’t care about mission,” Johnson said, “why are you Presbyterian?”

Yaphank Presbyterian Church is focusing on eradicating systemic poverty as its Matthew 25 focus. (Photo courtesy of Yaphank Presbyterian Church)

At the church’s food pantry, one man typically stops in for four boxes of food — one for himself, and three for other families he knows are depending on what’s inside. A church member who works at a nearby convenience store keeps his eye on food ready to expire, steering it away from the garbage and toward the church’s food pantry for a quick turnaround.

Yaphank Presbyterian Church is home to two Boy Scout troops, and the AA groups that meet at the church have access to the food pantry, Johnson said. An archery group practices outside the church’s community building, which survived the fire and houses worship.

Johnson’s “day job” is as office manager for two Long Island physicians — one Monday through Thursday, the other Fridays only. The former health educator said she plans to preach Sunday using an article she recently read on neuroplasticity training, which looks at the way combat veterans, for example, can be trained to reorganize their brain function. She plans to explore how God did just that for Saul — soon to be renamed Paul — on the road to Damascus.

“He’d been a persecutor who watched the stoning of Stephen,” Johnson said. “That conversion changed his brain’s whole way of thinking.”

Yaphank Presbyterian Church is well into its second century of ministry on Long Island. (Photo courtesy of Yaphank Presbyterian Church)

It’d better be a good sermon, she said: after delivering it to the good folks at Yaphank Presbyterian Church Sunday, she’ll use the same sermon while leading worship for a friend at another Long Island church.

The Matthew 25 invitation is for churches and mid councils that are committed to becoming more actively engaged in the world. Learn more here.

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