Dear Albany Presbytery,
As many of you now know, I have accepted a call to serve as the next pastor of South Presbyterian Church in Dobbs Ferry, NY – about 20 miles north of New York City. My final service at St. Peter’s will take place on Sunday, July 10th.
God’s call has many dimensions and so my reasons for saying “yes” are varied – born of both pragmatism and conviction, evolving self-knowledge and divine inspiration. My time at St. Peter’s has taught me a great many things – about what it means to live in community as the body of Christ, about what it looks like to love our neighbors, about God’s character, and about myself. One thing I have learned about myself is that I thrive most when I can work as part of a team. I feel most energized, capable, and accountable when I am around other people – doing hands-dirty ministry side by side, brainstorming across the table, and collaborating with diverse partners. My time at St. Peter’s has also helped me to see that social justice work is theologically essential and practically central in my own sense of call. My new role at South Church will allow me to build on what I’ve learned here at St. Peter’s and to live more deeply into these two aspects of my calling.
South Church is situated on a major road in a town of 11,000. When I begin there in August I will be joining a larger staff in a building that houses numerous community organizations and is busy seven days a week. Additionally, South Church, like St. Peter’s, has a strong progressive tradition. Social justice work lies at the very heart of their identity. They were one of the earliest and most outspoken proponents in our denomination of LGBTQ rights and have seeded several influential charitable organizations including Midnight Run – a ministry to homeless residents of New York City. In Dobbs Ferry I’ll face new challenges and opportunities that I hope will push me to grow as a pastor and – in the words of poet May Sarton – to further “become myself.”
There are also some practical concerns that have made this move seem right for us at this time. From Dobbs Ferry, my wife Selene, will be able to commute easily into her office at the ACLU in lower Manhattan; and both of us will be able to connect more regularly with our many friends in Westchester and New York City. For me this move holds special significance, as Dobbs Ferry is just one town south of the place where I grew up – just two miles from where I went to Sunday School!
I am so overwhelmed with gratitude when I think of the journey we’ve shared. It’s hard to find words that even hint at how I feel and it will be harder still to say goodbye.
At my ordination service in July of 2011, my childhood pastor, David Harkness, said this in his charge to me: “There is a church in Africa that begins worship with the pastor standing before the congregation saying, “I am, because you are,” and the people respond, “We are, because Christ is.” I have a greater appreciation now for the truth of those words. I am because St. Peter’s Presbyterian Church is. I am because Albany Presbytery is. And whatever I will be to others, it is in no small part because of what you have all been to me.
Please join me in praying for St. Peter’s during this time of transition and opportunity in our life as a church. In the words of Dag Hammarskjold, “For all that has been – Thank you. For all that will be – Yes.”
I thank my God every time I remember you, constantly praying with joy in every one of my prayers for all of you, because of your sharing in the gospel from the first day until now. I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ… And this is my prayer, that your love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight to help you to determine what is best, so that on the day of Christ you may be pure and blameless having produced the harvest of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ for the glory and praise of God.
– Philippians 1
Overwhelming Grace of God Be With You All,
Rev. Drew Paton