The Rev. Jeffrey Gamblee will lead church members in bi-weekly services as the newest pastor of First Universalist Church of Southold.
The 65-year-old Staten Island resident, commonly referred to as Pastor Jef, came to the church after a successful career in broadcast journalism. After working behind the camera at an NBC affiliate in Cincinnati, Ohio, he spent eight years freelancing, producing, shooting and directing video spots. He was nominated four times for regional Emmys, he said, and took the prize home twice in the mid-1980s.
Q: When did you find the church was your calling?
A: I knew by the time I was 8 years old that I was called to ordained ministry. I was always active in church but, at first, I didn’t like the idea of being a minister. I eventually ran out of excuses. I had independently taken clinical pastor education chaplain training; it was hospital-based. When I moved to New York City in 2001, I heard through a clergy friend that a nearby hospital was looking for a chaplain. I said, “Well, I’ll give it a shot.” The head chaplain looked at my résumé and said, “I’ll hire you, but you have to go to seminary and get ordained.” And so I did.
I am passionate about it. My very best day in television is not equal to my very worst day in ministry. Between the Emmys and meeting a former president and big stars and sporting figures, there was a very cool quality to the 25 or so years I did it, but I knew I wasn’t standing at the center of my being.
Q: What was it about the community that drew you to First Universalist Church?
A: It’s the people. We have a really solid group of members and I think they embody the elements of the liberal progressive and spiritual seekers. They are genuinely committed to this faith and what’s not to love? It’s just a welcoming church and we’re always happy to see new people.
The area is gorgeous. This is my third weekend out here so I’m still exploring. I am originally from Troy, N.Y., and there is a similarity the farther out I get past the pine barrens to where the vineyards are, it’s like — I recognize this. You’ve got the soil, the atmosphere and the weather.
Q: What do you hope to bring to the members of your congregation?
A: I think I want to bring an enthusiastic affirmation of the Unitarian Universalism faith by preaching and committing myself to the community. I am here on the weekends, so I will be here Friday afternoon until Monday around noon.
Q: Can you share something interesting about yourself?
A: I play the banjo — not very well, though. I’ve told the congregation not to worry, I will never play for them. I enjoy it. I am very much a music advocate. I am working with Charlotte Day, the music director, on getting the music the way we want it.
I also do still photography. I was just floored when I got out here. I’ve prowled once and have already got some great stuff, so I am looking forward to that.