The Rev. George W. Summers celebrated the 50th anniversary of his ordination June 10. He’s spent 48 of those 50 years as minister at Advent Lutheran Church in Mattituck, having come to the North Fork from Franklin Square in 1970.
“It’s a wonderful thing, to see not only the people, but the comings and goings of the people,” he said. “Some pastors spend five or six years in one church and then five or six in another, but I’ve been here for all of these 48 years. And in those 48 years, the people have changed over and over again. It’s a different congregation every time new people come, or people die, or move away.”
Although his congregations and the North Fork have both changed over the decades, the Rev. Summers, 75, has never stopped serving his community and inspiring those around him.
“I’ve seen the town and the North Fork grow. I recall when Hargrave Vineyard first opened up, the first of the vineyards, and now we’re noted for our vineyards. I’ve seen the onset of more and more tourists — everything has just changed substantially. Yet, I believe the soul of the people around us here has not changed,” he said.
During his tenure, the Rev. Summers has made numerous contributions to the North Fork, one of the earliest and most noteworthy being his involvement in creating the Ecumenical Nursery School in Southold in 1970, one of the area’s first preschools.
In 2002, recognizing the need for consistent support and services for the region’s homeless and near-homeless population, his congregation joined with those of other local churches to create Maureen’s Haven, which provides safe, warm, temporary shelter from November through March.
“We’ve done various things, which seem to be community needs, all because we believe as a church in the good news of God’s love, and God’s love for us; we need to love one another, and we need to put that in action. Whether it’s nursery school care, or a youth group dance, or the homeless program,” he said.
Todd Suprina, president of the church council at Advent, has attended for the past 20 years and says the Rev. Summers has encouraged a great sense of family within the congregation.
“One of the things that’s so nice about Advent is how consistent Pastor Summers has been all these years and how inclusive he is,” Mr. Suprina said. “He’s done a tremendous amount of work ecumenically on the East End of Long Island with the other churches and denominations.”
Mr. Suprina says the pastor is well loved and admired by the congregation.
“He’s a very bringing together sort of man. I think one of the most striking things about Pastor Summers is that he doesn’t get hung up with a lot of dogma. He presents things in a very common sense sort of way,” Mr. Suprina said.
The pastor has also served on the board of directors at Peconic Bay Medical Center for 23 years, and is currently its secretary.
“George has played a leadership role in the evolution of the hospital into a regional medical center,” said Andrew Mitchell, president and CEO of PBMC. “He has been passionate about our new programs and services to support the needs of our community. He’s been an incredibly strong advocate bringing the services to the community that people need, so they don’t have to travel great distances to get their health care.”
The Rev. Summers’ interests also extend to the Railroad Museum of Long Island in Greenport, where he has worked for 20 years on a scale model of Greenport called “Then and Now,” and where he also assists with growth and development.
Even after 50 years of giving sermons, he still makes sure his audience is engaged and his preaching is never dry.
“He’s got a tremendous sense of history, tremendous understanding of the gospel,” Mr. Suprina said. “He approaches his ministry with a great sense of humor as well. His preaching, with that humor and that history, it makes it so interesting. So often you hear the stereotypical story of the person falling asleep during the sermon — that doesn’t happen with Pastor Summers.”
Although he knows being a minister is not the career for everyone, the pastor hopes that those passionate about a cause try to make a difference.
“I appreciate doing this because it comes from my own religious heart,” he said. “I can’t see just anyone doing this, but there are lots of people interested in hunger, in poverty, injustice, civil rights, women’s rights, LGBTQ rights, in all of these things — and people should go after that.”
He inspired his godson, the Rev. Kevin Ogilvie of St. James Lutheran Church in Lexington, S.C., to follow the same path he found so much joy in.
“Pastor Summers inspired me into the ministry and sponsored my ordination some 36 years ago,” he said. “Through it all I have had a pastor because he has always been there. Indeed, George Summers has always been about reconciling communities. For longer than I can remember he has been actively engaged — on committees, writing articles, attending functions — for better ecumenical relations.”
Mr. Suprina said that although their pastor has reached retirement age, the congregation hopes he’ll hold off on that. And the Rev. Summers says he has no plan to retire as a minister anytime soon.
“I enjoy it too much,” he said. “The good Lord let me know to go into this, and God will let me know when it’s time to retire.”
Photo caption: The Rev. George Summers celebrated the 50th anniversary of his ordination earlier this month. He is pictured receiving a proclamation from Suffolk County Legislator Al Krupski. (Courtesy photo)