Without sounding trite, the Bensons are the first to call their decision to found a new church in Cutchogue “a leap of faith.”
It was a little more than two years ago when Pastor Keith Benson, a longtime youth pastor at Shirley Assembly of God and his wife, Claire, took the first steps toward establishing True Light Church — a Christian church whose message includes values of community and family — on the North Fork.
While living in Shirley, the young couple, along with their two children, Noah, 7, and Connie, 5, frequently visited in Orient, where Mr. Benson’s parents live. The Bensons said they felt a calling to move to the North Fork to found their own church, and in 2011, with the blessing of the Shirley Assembly of God, Mr. Benson quit his job, bringing the family to Mattituck with little more than a prayer and a plan in pocket, he said.
“We felt really compelled to be out in this area,” Mr. Benson said. “We really just felt a heart for this area and this community. We feel that God himself was saying, ‘Trust me, take this leap of faith.’ So we did.”
The decision did not come without challenges for the family.
Five days after Mr. Benson left his position in Shirley, his wife was diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 39, putting their dreams of founding a church on hold.
“Initially fear came over me,” Ms. Benson said. “We only had COBRA for health insurance and we lived two hours away from where I would have surgery and frequent doctors appointments. Travel expenses alone were costly, in addition to the co-pays, prescriptions and endless doctor’s bills we faced. It was a whole different life shift.”
Over the course of a year, Ms. Benson underwent a double mastectomy, followed by six rounds of chemotherapy and numerous breast reconstruction surgeries. While she went through treatment, the couple never lost sight of the church they dreamed to make a reality one day. During her recovery, the couple hosted Bible studies out of their home for more than a year, developing a small, close-knit congregation of 20 local people the pair met through work and school connections.
After a year of treatment, Ms. Benson had a clean bill of health and the Bensons once-again focused on the goal of founding a church.
“We knew we were just ready to start this church,” she said. “So we just kept plugging along and trying to find a space.”
In September the couple found the location of their dreams, a building on Route 25 in Cutchogue that formerly housed the now defunct Maritime Day School.
The modern two-story building was a perfect fit for the family church, Mr. Benson said. The space already had a nursery, a children’s play area and a space for worship the Bensons call the “Family Room.”
“We walked in and we knew this was our church,” Ms. Benson said. “Everything was here, we just painted.”
Without affiliation, the independent True Light Church is operating as a missionary, collecting money and relying on parishioners and volunteers to keep the congregation strong.
“We want to be a church that is like a family and that cares about each other like a family does and from that we received a tremendous amount of support,” Mr. Benson said. “We had people come and donate time and materials and help. We had friends who are carpenters that came and put in a whole day’s work and people from the community that went above and beyond to make this happen.”
The couple describes the newly founded church as a beacon of hope, inspired by a unique find on the beaches of Orient Point more than two years earlier.
“We were on the beach and I picked up a little, white rock and flipped it over and someone wrote on this particular rock ‘fallen, but beautiful’ and it was poetic because it really kind of explains people and this area because it’s beautiful but there is real life going on and there are people that have fallen and been hurt, but there is beauty and growth here,” Ms. Benson said.
Services are held on Sundays at 10:30 a.m. at True Light Church, located at 31095 Main Road, Cutchogue.